Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beware of the Assumption of Shared Meaning

A man sees his wife busy in the kitchen and says: "Can I help?".  She says, "Sure, take this bag of potatoes, peel half of them and put 'em in a pot to boil."  The picture above shows what he did.  Now, what happened here? I realize men are likely to have different explanation about this than the women.

Let’s look at some additional statements:
  • You can't ever put too much water on a nuclear reactor 
  • Joe will diet and exercise only if his doctor approves 
  • A woman without her man is nothing 
  • A man without his woman is nothing   
  • I never said you did it
  • Please have your report to me ASAP
  • Clean-up your room nicely
What do all these statements have in common?  I think you’ll quickly see that each of these statements have multiple meanings, and what that meaning is for any particular listener is subject to their way of listening, their own way of interpreting and meaning making.  This is crucial to understand because it’s ones interpretation(s) and meaning making that generates ones emotions and leads to ones actions and the resulting outcomes.

So let’s look further as to what’s going on here.  This happens because when we speak and listen to each other, we assume that we share the same meaning and are operating from the same reality.  More often than not, this is not so.  Thus this is one of the main sources of communication breakdowns (and thus relationship breakdowns). 

What actually happens is that each of us has and continues to build up a “meaning database” based on our interpretations of our past experiences, and this database is activated in our speaking and listening.  And it is this “meaning database” that comprises our reality.  So when we speak, we do so from our own meaning database.  Similarly when we listen, we listen from our own meaning database. 

Furthermore, the meaning of words and gestures is also context specific. Therefore, resulting meaning between the speaker and the listener often is not the same.  As Chalmers Brothers, author of Language and the Pursuit of Happiness says: “He said what he said, she heard what she heard, and they may not be the same”.   Thus it’s no surprise that so many misunderstandings and communication breakdowns occur between people.

So if you have ever found yourself being misunderstood and saying something like “No, no, no, that is not what I meant”, or you yourself having misunderstood another where they said to you “No, no, no that is not what I meant”, there is very good likelihood that you both are operating in different realities and from different meaning databases.

With the above in mind, one of the best ways to ensure everyone is on the same page, a good practice is repeating back to the speaker what you heard and understood and ask if what you understood is what he/she meant.  Checking out your listening by taking such a step will often clear up many misunderstandings and will lead to better and stronger relationships, team work, and outcomes.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Getting Unstuck...New Beginnings...Moving Forward!

I often come across talented individuals who are feeling stuck.  And in spite of best of intentions, desires, and being highly capable they have a very difficult time making transition to the new.  I too have been one of these individuals.  Having myself successfully moved through several major life and career transitions over the years, mostly through trial-and-error, there are many lessons that I have learned along with way.  In this post, I will share with you couple of those key lessons.

So, first, what is it that keeps us from transitioning effectively?

The more I have thought about this, the more I have come to see that one of the key obstacles we face is that we overtime confuse our Doing with our Being and Having.  In other words, who we say we are becomes linked to what we do, to what we have accumulated and accomplished, and to the relationships we have built over the years.

For example, let's say I successfully practiced law.  Overtime as I engaged in this work, I lose sight of the fact that being an attorney was my professional role, it's what I did, but it didn't mean that I had Become an attorney.  Practicing law hadn't become some fixed and permanent property and define who I Am.  Instead, it was simply one of my life's roles.  So if my identify of who I say Am becomes so connected to my "being" an attorney and then if there comes a point when I no longer practice law, this then brings up the question "who am I really"?

What also keeps us stuck are our emotions, as they relate the past and to the future.  In regards to the past, we may be carrying feelings such as resentment, anger, hurt, guilt, shame, and regrets.  In regards to the future, given the unknown, we may be feeling anxiety, worry, fears, and apprehension.  Either way, these emotions also keep us stuck for neither have we come to terms with the past and nor have we embraced the uncertainty that is very much part of living for no one truly knows what the future holds.

So, how do we get unstuck and how do we move forward again to create a new future?

Through my own journey and after much reflection, I have come to see that we have to take two major steps.  One is we must complete with the past.  This includes both honoring the goodness we have experienced as well as taking actions such as forgiving (ourselves and others), seeing, accepting and apologizing for mistakes we have made, and simply accepting what was and what can no longer be and can not be changed.  In other words, we have to complete with and let go of what was.

"Resentment is the poison I drink, hoping you'll die" - Nelson Mandela
"Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past" - Source Unknown

In addition to completing with the past and putting the past in the past, making successful transitions requires us to embrace uncertainty for this is part of life.  Thus in spite of the uncertainty, fears, worries, we must daily muster up our inner strength and show up and take new action for it is only action that moves us forward.  Furthermore, whenever we strive to create something new, we are bound to make mistakes, to fail, and to experience set-backs. Therefore it also important we see these as not personal failures but rather as opportunities to learn, to grow, and to course correct.  These are the stepping stones that lead us to a new future.

Yet we often don't know what we can do, what actions to take.  And even when we do we experience self-doubt and wonder if we can really do it.  In this regards what I have come to see is that we each are Instruments of Possibilities (IPs). By this I mean we are like the computers and what we can do is a function of what we have programmed ourselves to do.  So if we want to create and achieve something new in life, we have to reprogram ourselves--install a new software--and this is very doable, if we allow it.  And for this reprogramming to occur, we have to be first willing to allow removal of the old program and them embrace the new program and the possibilities that are associated with it.  This then sets the stage for the new programming, new beginning, new learning to begin.

In the human sense, we have to be willing to let go of who and what no longer serves us, declare ourselves as beginners again and take steps to enter into new learning for new learning allows us to see new possibilities and to take new action, which is required in order to achieve new results.  In addition, we must step into a new field consisting of new relationships, and invent and participate in new conversations.  By doing so, over time with enough time and practice and rigor, we begin to achieve new results and in the process literally become someone new.  And all this begins with first letting go of what was and fully embracing what is and what can be.

“Perhaps that is where our choice lies -- in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things, and how we will greet each new beginning.”-- Elana Arnold, Burning