Change Work November 2007

What do you think?

Do you care what other people think - about you or what you're doing?  I'm sure you do to some extent.  But how much?

Perhaps your main way of making judgements about anything is to consider what others might think.  You know when you've done a good job because someone tells you.

Or maybe you only take your own values, beliefs and perceptions into account.  You know when you've done something well because you have your own standards for comparison.

"Internal (or Self) Reference vs External (or Other) Reference" is another of those "meta programs" that I've talked about before.  And like the others, there's a spectrum of thinking and behaving between the extremes and we all have the ability to "do" either internal or external referencing.  Mostly though, you'll demonstrate a preference - perhaps a very strong preference - for one end of the spectrum.

In practice, I've found external referencing to be associated with strongly valuing the good opinions of others and wanting to be personally valued by them.  This can cause problems when that "valuing" is witheld.  The individual can do nothing about this, having placed their self-esteem in the hands of others, and those others may not even be aware of being given this power.

In any case, how do you know what others think?  Perhaps you know because they've told you.  Or perhaps you've just imagined it.  If the latter, then you're on really shaky ground because you don't even get the benefit of conforming to the majority view. 

You're guided by an illusion!

You might even project your own thoughts onto others and so believe that they think what you do!  (I'll pick this theme up again in a future article.)

You might be wondering whether these preferences correlate with other labels of "type".  Are internally referenced people usually introverted as well?  Probably the opposite!  The strong sense of internal standards, and perhaps the lack of concern with what others think, tends to go with an extrovert stance. Whilst introversion (and inhibition?) is likely to accompany external referencing.

It's worth taking the time to notice how other people behave.  In meetings, when receiving new information, do they look round at everyone else, gauging reaction, or are their eyes down, effectively looking inside themselves, testing what they've seen and heard against their internal yardsticks?

Do they need to have a discussion before they express an opinion or take up a position?  Or do they always know what's right or wrong, good or bad, straight away?

So how do YOU know what to think?  Do you look for feedback from the crowd or do you just know?

Neither style is inherently better than the other in my opinion (if you're interested in my opinion!).  Rather, the goal here is to develop choice and flexibility so that you can apply internal or external referencing as appropriate in a particular context.  Then you can combine self confidence with the ability to take into account the feelings and points of view of others.