In an interview with Executive coach Jenny McKay, Peoplemax explores the consequences of employees’ thoughts about themselves on their work colleagues and their power to influence, and how this can lead to their success or failure.
Question: Why is it so important to consider your impact on others in a competitive workplace?
Jenny McKay: Because in the end your impact on others can determine your own success or failure. What we encounter on a daily basis is meeting any number of individuals and their own explanatory styles (Seligman, Learned Optimism). Heightened awareness gives us the chance to have a far greater intentional and conscious appreciation of what we are experiencing, how it might be received, how we would like it to be received and any mitigating steps we can take to reduce the risk of delivering the wrong message and having an adverse effect. This opens the way to influence and in today’s competitive workplaces, the power of influence is key to facilitating maximum performance and potential for a leader.
Question: So in developing our influencing skills, where is a good place to begin?
Jenny McKay: No matter what we find ourselves working with, all roads lead back to self-awareness. When there is self-awareness, the benefits are many. When it is low, all sorts of things can go awry. In particular our impact on others is very much influenced by how aware we are of ourselves.
A major element that determines our awareness of ourselves is our capacity to appreciate the influence of our thoughts. If we are aware of our thoughts, we can also tune in to what their impact on us might be. In turn, we can be aware of their likely impact on our behaviour.
We can then tune in to our potential responses to people while we hold these thoughts. We can appreciate how these thoughts affect what we choose to attend to and focus on, how our work will be impacted, what will happen to our style of driving, for example, while we have these thoughts and what might happen when we make connection with others.
Question: Can you give us a practical example of how this might happen when we connect with others?
Jenny McKay: Let’s look at the experience of anger. Let’s work on the theory that anger builds up in response to a sense that there is a threat to something of ours, that something might be at risk of being taken away, hurt or diminished. It could be our credibility, our reputation, our rights, or something we own.
If I get into my car with thoughts of anger, my driving will potentially be influenced by this. We all know this. The less aware I am of this, the more likely I am to interpret other people’s behaviour and driving patterns around me as fitting in with my current angry theories of the world.
So I will assume someone is not letting me into the stream of traffic - they are denying me my rightful place - rather than recognising that there is no gap in the traffic just yet. I will assume the person in front of me is intentionally slow. They are intentionally and maliciously blocking my progress to my destination instead of considering that the person in front may be aware of an upcoming hazard in the traffic which I can’t yet see. This is where we engage in or see such reactions as tailgating and other forms of road rage.
Question: So are you saying we might behave differently if we were more aware of the anger that’s built up?
Jenny McKay: There is less likelihood of unconscious behavioural choices. We are more likely to consider our impact on other unsuspecting individuals, haplessly making their way in their world with their own stuff to deal with. We are more likely to think, ponder, consider before we start tooting or mouthing off or driving aggressively as if the whole world is to blame.
The parallels between our driving and how it is influenced by our unaware state and our general day to day life are quite striking. How unaware we often are with regards to how we are impacting on others. We are, more often than not, not appreciating how much we tell the world of our inner state without meaning to. It is represented in our face, our eyes, our voice, our posture, the way we are walking, the way we are sitting, the way we respond, the timing of our response and so on. Our body betrays us. Our manner reveals us. Our emotions, thoughts and beliefs quietly or not so quietly breathe out from our pores.
The problem is not just that we are sharing stuff we really would not be happy or proud to share. It is that we aren’t providing really clear, understandable material to the world. All those around us can see is that we are angry and they’re not sure why. Are we angry at the world, someone else, ourselves? And in that vacuum of not clearly knowing and making sense of our anger, the world and its participants will start to impose their own personal theories on us and our behaviour.
If they are inclined to externalize things, they might jump to their own theory that all middle aged women are prone to inexplicable anger. If on the other hand, they are inclined to either personalise things, or take far too much responsibility for other people and their responses, they might assume it is something that they have done. There are endless possibilities for how people make sense of unexplained behaviour.
Question: So it’s the “how” part of being more aware of our thoughts and their potential impact that is so important then?
Jenny: Yes exactly. And that’s absolutely critical in developing great influencing skills.
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