Change Work August 2010

With added value!

I intended to start this piece by quoting Monty Python's recipe for "Rat Pie", going so far as to search the attic for the book I was sure it was
in.  I actually found it and read again the step-by-step description of how to select a knife or cleaver, to hold it high up so that the steel glints in the last rays of the setting sun and then ...  But the rest will offend some people and doesn't need to be repeated.  Suffice to say that it tells, graphically and at length, how to kill the rat and ends with, "Then cook it in a pie".

The point I was thinking about when I remembered this classic, was that you tend to notice what you're interested in and often assume that everyone else is interested in the same things.  Just like the school English homework I once did that asked for a brief synopsis of a film I'd seen followed by a critique.  It was a very long film, and I'd seen it twice, so I wrote 10 pages recounting the whole story and about half a page on how good I thought it was.  To me this was the right balance - I was considerably more interested in the characters and what happened to them than I was in how the story was constructed or how effectively it was portrayed.

Another way of expressing "what you're interested in" is "what you value".  I've discussed values a few times before as one of the "4 building blocks": Values, Vision, Purpose and Goals where I presented values as the bedrock of your life - the things that are most important to you.  And remember that you may not be consciously aware of some of them.  So how do they influence you if don't even know they're there?  Is there a common characteristic of "values" that distinguishes them from other ideas that you've stored away and that makes them appealing?

In fact the mind seems to utilise a system for coding all "internal representations" that identifies them as pleasant, unpleasant, stimulating, frightening or any other feeling that you can experience about an idea or a memory.  The code is the particular set of "submodalities" that are used in the representation.  The main modalities of thinking are visual, auditory and kinaesthetic, by which I mean that you think in pictures, in sounds and in touch or internal sensations.  Then the submodalities are the qualities of those modalities: bright/dark, coloured/black-and-white, near/far, loud/soft, high/low-pitched, warm/cold, rough/smooth etc.

In the January 2008 article I described how the submodalities of a memory or an imagined event determine how you feel about it and that by consciously changing the submodalities you can permanently change the associated feelings.  Well, the same applies to values - the things that are important to you.  So, you might value "friendship", in which case that concept is always associated with an image, sounds and/or sensations that are emotionally satisfying for you.  And if you take the trouble to examine the submodalities of another idea, one that you're indifferent to, and compare them with those of "friendship" (or whatever else it is you value) you'll find differences.

So how can this be put to use?

Well, just as you can make something you're apprehensive about, such as an interview, feel less threatening by changing its submodalities, so you can change the order of your values by adjusting the code.  Let's say for example that, at work, you tend to focus on the details of the task in hand rather than on the feelings or the wellbeing of your co-workers.  That's not to say that you are necessarily callous or in any way negative towards them, you're just not really that interested.  Once you move into any kind of supervisory position then this preference will affect your leadership ability because most people are very sensitive to how others feel about them.  If you would rather be talking about the problem, the project or the challenge then, even if you take the trouble to ask how they are, they will know that it's not genuine.  They may not think it consciously but they'll feel it.  Every gesture, facial expression and intonation of yours will tell their unconscious minds that you're thinking something that isn't congruent with your words.

Now, if this is you and you want to influence and lead more effectively, you can choose to alter your values.  As described in the January 2008 article, you identify the critical submodalities, i.e. the ones that are different between your representations of "the task" and "your people" and which also make a difference to your feelings when you change them.  Then deliberately change those critical elements so that thinking about "your people" feels just as interesting and stimulating as thinking about "the task".

To make this clearer, let's say that the key submodality for you is the brightness of the visual image and that you represent the important things in a very bright picture and everything else much darker.  (Note that it doesn't have to be this way round.  For some people "bright" can be upsetting!)  Now, simply make your mental picture of "your people" brighter, and notice the change in how it feels.  Hold it like that for a while and it will begin to take hold.  And also, when you're planning a conversation with a team member, make sure that you imagine the scene to be nice and bright (or whatever your critical submodality is).  This will engage you in the same way that "the task" usually does so that when you have the actual encounter you'll be much more focused on the other person - and they will know it.

Oh dear, I seem to have told a very long story again and now haven't enough space left to summarise and to put it into context.  Anyone would think I care more about the details!