Showing posts with label Self-awareness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Self-awareness. Show all posts

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Guilt Your First Reaction?

It was the spring of my junior year in high school, and I was sitting in English class. One of the student aides from the principal’s office came to the door and asked the teacher if I could be excused.

When I got out in the hall with her, she simply said that the principal wanted to see me. She couldn’t tell me why.

Immediately, a feeling of guilt washed over me. What had I done? What was I in trouble for?

My heart was racing, and my hands were sweating as we walked silently to the office. I’d never been summoned to the principal’s office before. What was going on? 

When I entered his office, I was shaking inside and hoped he couldn’t detect how nervous I was.

He looked at me and then came around from behind his desk. He wasn’t frowning, but he wasn’t smiling either. I still had no clue about why I was there.

Then he broke into a big grin and said, “Congratulations. You’re one of three girls in your class of 550 who’s been selected to attend Girls State this summer.”

I was floored. It took me a few minutes to recover.

When you expect bad news and hear something positive instead, your thoughts and emotions have to switch gears. The adrenaline rushing through my body had been preparing for flight or fight, not celebration. I nearly cried from relief.

I wasn’t in trouble after all!

I didn’t hear the next words he spoke as my mind processed his initial pronouncement. I didn’t even know what Girls State was at that moment. But I understood it was an honor and not a punishment.

It’s interesting that the day I learned of my selection is etched so powerfully in my memory.

Why that incident stands out

Our brains retain vivid memories of events that carry strong emotions with them, and the anticipation of meeting with the principal was one of those times for me.

Years later, I’m still processing the lessons from that experience because there are still too many occasions when my first response to a situation is GUILT. Even when I haven’t done anything to feel guilty about!

I could endlessly analyze the reasons why this happens, but that kind of examination of the past is not a productive use of my thinking, my energy or my time.

Instead, I needed to devise some ways to stop the automatic “guilt” response while still taking responsibility for what I say and do.

How to avoid the guilt trip

If you tend to suffer from excessive feelings of guilt or shame, ask yourself these questions to remove the emotion and take a more logical approach:

  • What has just happened? What are the facts?
  • Have I said or done anything to feel guilty about?
  • What is the appropriate (emotionally healthy) response in this situation?

A realistic assessment of your own role is vital in determining what you should do next.

If you do have a reason to feel guilty, figure out who was affected by your behavior. Then quickly approach the person(s) involved and make amends. Do what you can to set things right so you regain their trust and confidence…AND keep your self-respect and self-image intact.

If you haven’t done anything wrong, then don’t allow anyone (including yourself) to make you feel guilty. Affirm your strengths and what you’ve done well under the circumstances. It also helps to take several deep breaths to let go of the negative feelings.

The real key is to develop greater self-awareness so you immediately sense when you’re experiencing negative emotions like guilt or shame. If you don’t recognize them, you won’t be able to do anything about them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Listening – A Lesson in What NOT to Do

I was just finishing up my third year of teaching 4th grade at an elementary school in Blacksburg, Virginia. While I’d enjoyed those three years, I was ready for a change. I’m the kind of person who thrives on variety and challenges.

But my principal didn’t want to reassign me to a different position. He was eager to keep me where I was because I was doing such a good job. So when he refused my request, I decided to apply for an opening that came up at another school.

I was actually serious about making the transfer, until I had an interview with that school’s principal. Although that meeting took place more than 30 years ago, I remember to this day the reason I withdrew my application.

It had to do with listening.

We met for close to an hour, and I think I spoke a total of five minutes during that time.

It was fascinating at first to hear him describe specifics about his school and the faculty. But then he began “holding forth” about himself and all the things he’d done.

At no time did he try to learn about my teaching style, my attitude towards children, or anything else that might have helped him make an informed decision about my suitability for the position.

Instead, at the end of our time together, he looked at me and said, “I think you’re the kind of person who’d fit right in here. The job is yours if you want it.”

I was flabbergasted.

He hadn’t spoken to my current principal, and he hadn’t asked me any questions.

I’ll never forget the thought that ran through my mind at that moment: How could you possibly know if I’d fit in? You haven’t made any effort to get to know me at all! 

I politely told him I’d think about it and get back to him, but I already knew what my answer would be. His behavior during that interview foreshadowed what life would be like at that school. There was no way that I would work for someone who was so self-absorbed.

Since then, I’ve encountered scores of people – many of them in key leadership positions – who share this principal’s habit. They’re focused on talking about themselves and their accomplishments. They don’t seem to consider that those around them might have something meaningful to say. They don’t understand that, by listening, they can learn from others and validate their worth.

Today I consider this habit a measure of a person’s ego and self-awareness. The more you’re willing to let others have the floor and listen with genuine interest to what they're saying, the more comfortable you probably are in your own skin. And the less you feel the need to dominate discussions. You’re more likely to acquire important information and gain insights you didn’t have before.

A test to check how much you’re listening versus talking

When you’re in a conversation with others – whether individually or in a group – imagine that there’s a spotlight shining down on the person who is speaking. Consciously monitor the percentage of time the spotlight is focused on you compared to the others.

If you’re in the spotlight most of the time, it’s a good bet the people you’re talking to are experiencing a mix of frustration and disappointment. Like me in that interview, they’re probably wishing you’d stop talking long enough to take an interest in them.

Not only that, if you don’t listen, how will you know what your customer really wants? Or what a colleague thinks will work on a specific project? Or what your child needs from you right now?

In case you need further convincing, simply monitor your own reaction when you’re engaged in a conversation with someone who’s pre-occupied with delivering their own message and appears to have no interest in what you have to say. I predict your thoughts and feelings won’t be positive.

Whether you’re at home or at work, when you take time to let others do the talking and you focus exclusively on understanding them and making them feel understood, you will be utterly amazed at the transformation that takes place in your relationships.

Every human being has a deep need to be accepted and understood. If you fulfill that need, you’ll form an unbreakable bond that can last a lifetime.
"It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life.” - Alfred Adler, Austrian psychiatrist (1870-1937)