Updated: Apr 8, 2020
When things go awry, there are 4 basic steps to consider to support you in communicating effectively, efficiently and in a way which encourages connection, collaboration, and ease whether at work or play.
These steps include:
STEP 1: Determining, what is happening (what happened).
STEP 2: Learning, what the impact is of what is happening (or what happened); internally and for other people involved.
STEP 3: Discovering, what’s driving the situation. What are the underlying factors? Values?
STEP 4: Asking, what will move the situation forward.
Although I am presenting them here as STEP 1, 2, 3 & 4, they are not always approached in the order 1-4. Communication should take all 4 steps into consideration but all 4 pieces may not be verbalized in a conversation. Often the steps happen internally and simply inform action and communication. In this blog post I will explore Step 1.
STEP 1 What happened? (or is happening)
What did you see/are you seeing?
What did you hear/are you hearing?
Imagine you could take a picture/video of "what happened". Step 1 will ONLY include what could be captured by the picture/video. It will not include any of the thoughts in people's heads about what happened. I.e., you can't take a picture of someone "being disrespectful". You can take a picture of someone sticking their tongue out.
The role step 1 plays in effective communication is to create objectivity and increase curiosity, there-by minimizing defensiveness and maximizing possibilities.
Imagine your co-worker Angela is 10 minutes late for a meeting with your design team. This is the 3rd time this week she has showed up 10 minutes late for your morning meeting.
Angela has been at least 10 minutes late for the design team morning meetings 3 times this week.
EVALUATIONS YOU MIGHT MAKE:
"She's always late." "She doesn't care about us." "She thinks she's better than us." "She's lazy." "She's unreliable." "She is overwhelmed." "Things must be rough at home for her."
"The highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating."
-Indian philosopher Krishnamurti
When considering what is happening, notice your evaluations and your judgements. “You are always late,” is obviously a judgement. “You are late again” still holds a very subtle evaluation and judgement. A true observation of what has happened would be, “this is the third time you have arrived at least 10 minutes after our meeting time.”
Why does this matter?
Judgements and evaluations restrict your ability to find solutions and the ability to get the result you want.
In order to make a judgement or an evaluation of a situation you have to discount and eliminate all other possible explanations of what is happening - and even eliminate observations of things which are happening but which don’t match your judgement or evaluation of the situation. In doing so, you are likely not to notice or to discount valuable information which you could use to find a solution or obtain the result you am looking for.
When you label the actions of others you give control of the emotional impact of those actions on you to them and take that control away from yourself.
You can't control what other people do, think or feel, so if your comfort is dependent on others actions, thoughts or feelings, you are destined to live an uncomfortable life. When you evaluate and label another persons actions, rather than let them TELL you what is motivating their actions, you miss the opportunity to care for your feelings yourself. You turn your feelings over to the other person. If I say, "she doesn't care", I am making my feelings, and the emotional impact of her actions on me, about her. If I say, "I'm afraid she doesn't care", I am holding onto my feelings about her actions and creating space for my feelings about her actions to be attended to by myself and/or someone else, no matter what "she" does, thinks, or feels.
Judgements and evaluations, when shared with others, often elicit disconnection and defensiveness. In so doing, someone who could be using their resources to help you get what you want is now using their resources to defend themselves against you.
Just as it is natural to throw up an arm in defense or duck when you see a hand coming quickly toward your face, it is a natural human reaction to defend yourself, duck or run when you (or your actions) have been judged, labelled, or defined by another person...even, and perhaps especially if the judgement resonates with a thought your have about yourself. Your human survival relies on the ability to have power in your world. When you are defined by others it's likely your subconscious will interpret it as an attack on your ability to have freedom and power to actualize yourself and will either create a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. This response may be especially strong if the judgement/label/evaluation resonates with an undesirable label or judgement you have put on yourself. The reason for this is that the evaluation of you (made by the other person) will likely trigger a shame response in you, amplifying any emotional response you have to the "attack" on your self identify.
Judgements are about the person making the judgement more than the person being judged.
Your judgements are great clues into what matters to you and can be used to clarify the results you want. That said, they are not necessarily clues as to what matters to another person, or what is motivating them. In fact, because your judgements stem from your personal experience, they may cloud your ability to see what is happening around you objectively and lead you to act with false beliefs and information. You know what they say about assuming (another form of judgement/evaluation)...assumptions make an ass out of u and me!
AN EXAMPLE FOR HOW TO USE THIS KNOWLEDGE IN ORDER TO ENHANCE COMMUNICATION
Angela was 10 minutes late to the morning design meeting for the 3rd time in that week.
“She is always late! She doesn’t care about anybody’s schedule other than her own. How can we get this project done if she doesn’t even care about showing up on time.”
Judgement words which will illicit a defensive reaction and which cloud my vision:
She is. I have labelled her actions.
always. I have made a generalization. Is she really late 100% of the time to everything?
She doesn't care. I have labelled her feelings.
Opening the door to change by changing my thoughts:
"This is the third time she has shown up 10 minutes late for the morning meeting.”
After recognizing my judgements, I can choose to look at what has actually happened, which is that Angela has shown up at least 10 minutes late 3 times. Now, because I have let go of my assumptions about what motivated Angela's actions, the door is open for me to inquire as to where the disconnect between my expectations and Angela's actions is. An effective follow up to the thought, "this is the 3rd time she has shown up 10 minutes late" would be "I wonder what's going on."
There are so many possibilities why Angela is showing up late; Is it that we have a different understanding/belief about timeliness and respect, or even about our agreed time for meeting? Is it that we don’t have enough trust in our team dynamic for Angela to be honest about her schedule and her ability to show up? Or perhaps Angela thinks she is being coerced to show up, doesn’t want to be there and is avoiding conflict by agreeing? Does Angela really understand the effect of her actions on the team? On me? On the vision we share? Do we share a vision? Or have I assumed we do? There are so many possibilities. The point here is not to figure out what Angela's motivation is. The point is to move me from being on the defense and attack about what happened to being curious and open to learning more about myself, what I want, what my team wants, learning about Angela, and working with her to find a strategy to bring about the change the team and I are wanting.
Pick at least three of the following statements and;
1. Make up a scenario in which you might make that evaluation. Write it as an observation - with no evaluations or judgements!
She made the decision without considering how it would impact … (me, financials, the project, etc…).
He went behind my back and talked to my supervisor instead of me.
They didn’t consider our department needs when making their plan.
He doesn't like me so he gives the best jobs to Mary.
They expect too much of me.
You don’t appreciate the work I do.
You aren’t trying hard enough.
He asked me what I thought but then just went and did what he wanted.
She doesn’t trust my judgement. She’s always looking over my shoulder.
It doesn’t matter what I do, I won’t move ahead.
He’s a hot head.
They don’t listen to me.
She dropped the ball.
“He doesn't like me so he give's the best jobs to Mary”.
Make up a scenario in which you might make that evaluation. Write it as an observation - with no evaluations or judgements:
Sam, my director, assigned a client I wanted to work with to Mary. It is the second time this month this has happened.
Do this exercise with each of the three evaluations you chose and the observations you turned them into:
Memorize the evaluation. i.e. "He doesn't like me so he gives the best jobs to Mary." Close your eyes and say the evaluation a few times out loud. Notice how your body feels. What do your shoulders feel like? Your chest? Your stomach? What's your breathing like? Etc...Notice any other sensations, colors, smells, feelings which arise in you when you make the statement.
Open your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Look around the room and notice the colors of the furniture in the room. Listen for any sounds. This acts as an emotional "palette" cleaner.
Memorize the observation, i.e. "Sam assigned a client I wanted to work with to Mary." This is the second time this month this has happened." Close your eyes again and notice how this thought feels in your body. After thoroughly connecting with all the feelings you notice. Open your eyes
Consider any differences in your body between the two statements.
For me, when I did this exercise with the Angela example and I spoke the evaluation statement I felt tightness and a little fire in my chest and my belly. I felt a bit like a tight rubber band. A desire to fight stirred in me. When I said the observation statement I felt softness in my chest and belly and a sadness. A desire to hug myself welled up in me.
What's the importance of the differences? Saying the evaluation turned my attention to Sam and Mary, and put me into a fighting stance. This is an energy which would likely create defensiveness in Sam, no matter what I say to him, if I tried to communicate with him while feeling it. These feelings also give me a sense of powerlessness. I know I can't control Sam. When I judge his actions this way, I am giving power over my life to him.
Conversely, saying the observation statement brought me into myself and connected me with my fears and my sadness around the clients being given to Mary. This allows me to go to Sam (if I chose to talk to him about this) open to him being an ally, rather than an enemy. This energy is more likely to create a desire in him to listen to me and support me if and when I communicate with him about this situation. In addition, these are my feelings which I can attend. So no matter what Sam does I am empowered to care for my needs.
Remember, the objective for Step 1 is not to solve the problem, it's to set the stage within myself to move forward effectively by increasing my objectivity and curiosity about the situation and my ability to speak about the situation to others without eliciting defensiveness in them. The resolution for the Angela (or Sam) situation is going to involve me also going through steps 2-4, first within myself and then, likely, with Angela (or Sam) and even the entire design team (from the Angela example).
All said, the point of the distinction between judgements/evaluations and observations IS NOT that judgements are bad. At some point, when making decisions, we have to asses the information and resources we have, evaluation and make a the best judgement possible so that we can make a decision about our next action. What's important is to name and own your judgements, recognizing that they are not facts, to not mask them as being truths, especially when they refer to others motivations and actions, and to be open, even questioning them, willing to listen to others evaluations, looking for new information and willing to reassess.
You have spent your entire lifetime learning your language. Don't expect it to change overnight. Rather ask yourself "What is most alive in me when I read about this?" "Where is this relevant in my life?" "What changes might I experience if I started to be aware of the judgments I make in my speech?" If you want to explore these questions, take your practice deeper or explore any other questions about how your language creates you experience of you world, give me a call! I'd love to explore with you and support you!