Hey, welcome to Day 11! You are doing really well.
Remember the quarry story? If not jump back to Day 10 (yesterday) right now and refresh your memory. I’ll wait.
You’ll recall I was told not to go to the local cement quarry – under-any-circumstances – but I did! When I get home there’s mum waiting at the back door. Then she asks where I have been all day.
Remember, I’m seven years old. And there’s mum looming big in the doorway looking very annoyed so now I’m under pressure. I’m in trouble. I know what is coming next. The wooden spoon, dad will get involved at some point, and there will be nagging and scolding.
So what did I do? I tell her a lie. I tell her I was playing at a friend’s house all afternoon. What I don’t expect is she believes me! So she says, “Get washed up for dinner.” and then turns around and goes inside the house without any scolding … no wooden spoon … no ‘wait till your father gets home’ … and miraculously I’m no longer in trouble.
I asked you to think about what happened. Did you do that? (In a live coaching session we would explore your thinking, so lean in to this process and do the thinking otherwise you need to explore why you are going passive and going through the motions.)
So here’s what happened. I tell my mum a lie and get away with it. So what did I learn? I’m not in trouble and there’s no punishment. So what did I learn? It appears I learned that telling lies works especially if you’re in trouble and under pressure.
This is what we call the birth of a dumb idea or a faulty belief.
Now there is a very short-term benefit to telling lies – but only a very short term benefit.
What I know about very successful people is they have a consistent ability to be truthful especially under pressure. And even though I’m only seven, I know that telling lies is wrong. And I learned that lesson at home, at school and at church.
So let’s pretend your brain thinks in pictures. Have you ever been into an electrical store to the TV department and seen rows and rows of TVs? Well just imagine that your mind is like that store and one of the TV screens is playing a movie called Tell-the-truth. It contains a loop of all the lessons learned, the admonitions, the Sunday School lectures and the times I got into trouble for telling lies.
But when I told a lie – and got away with it – it’s like I ejected the movie called Tell-the-truth and inserted a new movie called Tell-lies! The faulty belief is that telling lies appears to work. It appears to have an element of success about it because there was no punishment. I got away with telling a lie.
Now most of us work out sooner than later that telling lies doesn’t work. We get caught out and the Tell-lies tape quickly goes back to the Tell-the-truth movie. There’s a small amount t of pain involved but on the balance its a better movie to live by. And that’s what happens with most people, right? But you know an adult who tell lies!
So is that adult lying because they want to sabotage their success? No. They are only doing it because they believe that if they are under pressure telling lies will work. They believe they are acting successfully. They only think lying works because somewhere in the past it worked. This is the mechanics of just about any non-optimum behaviour you can think of. We do stupid stuff because at some point we received feedback that it appears to work.
(I developed a profiling tool called the Business Leadership Profile and one of the things we measure is Assertiveness – a trait highly effective leaders exhibit. A very low score tells us you are meek and mild and you will cave in under pressure and not speak up or do what you know needs doing. You do that because – to you – going passive under pressure at one point in time appeared to work. At the other end you have learned that being a 24-carat, gold platted bully works. You know people who are assertive-aggressive who believe my way or the highway is the only way.)
Do people lie all the time? No, most of us have learned to differentiate from culpable lies and white lies. Research shows us that we have learned how to lie by the age of two. Its called Theory of Mind first postulated by David Premack in 1978. Theory of Mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own. Importantly, it’s actually the basis for empathy and compassion – the ability to imagine how someone else might feel. Small children learn that sometimes when they tell the truth others feel hurt and upset and even express hurt feelings, or anger. So basically they learn to lie.
Children with autism do not have this ability. Sociopaths and narcissists also have diminishing levels of ability to empathise with others.
We are not talking about consciously lying as a self-protective strategy to avoid a negative consequence, we are talking the habit of deliberately lying to deceive someone for gainful means, or where telling the truth carries a shameful or punitive consequence. Lying – like almost any negative trait – shows up most under pressure.
So a kid learns to lie and gets away with it often enough and has learned that lying works under pressure. Dine often enough lying becomes automatic, unconscious and a default set point position to avoid a negative consequence. And now fast forward to their adulthood. The adult encounters another pressure situation where someone asks them the equivalent of the ‘where have you been’ question and they automatically tell a lie when its probably not even needed.
In reality, often there’s nothing wrong with the truth.
The unconscious logic goes something like this: It worked when I was seven! It worked when I was eight, and 12 and 18. But by now it’s automatic. Under pressure? = Tell a lie. If you get away with telling lies often enough you now have evidence to support that faulty belief and the behaviour of telling lies.
But adults also now justify lying and rationalise their behaviour. “You can’t handle the truth.” Or “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Or “Its no biggie, anyway.” Or, “If I tell the truth they’ll get upset.”
Lying may not be a direct lie. It might look like embellishment or fuzziness around the edges or near enough is good enough. Or its lying by omission – lying by omitting information. But the faulty belief is still that lying works. I need to lie in order to stay safe. At the back of it, of course, is fear.
Here’s the thing. Your faulty belief may not be lying but you’ll have faulty beliefs around other things. See as you’ve grown up you’ve collected many faulty beliefs about a whole host of behaviours.
You now know that Ron nice-guys the situation. Nice-guying means play it safe. You let things go through to the keeper. Ron plays it polite, passive and forgiving when what is needed is some straight talking, directness or confrontation even. But Ron learned to go passive because he grew up in a household where there was lots of conflict. And he was bullied at school and he wanted to be liked … and … and … and … and now its just what he does – automatically – under pressure.
This is one possible reason he has late-paying customers. His customers know he will not chase them for payment because he is nice. Of course, it might also be because he doesn’t have a clear credit policy or terms and conditions or a system in place to chase up debtors. That is not actually the case because I checked and Ron does have a clear credit control policy. But he ignores a prudent policy and the advice of his CFO and nice guys late paying customers in order to avoid upsetting them.
Jane’s nurses know they can get away with interrupting her without any consequence because she’s a nice guy, too.
See your regulars get to know you. There’s an FM radio station in my area that plays easy-listening. I don’t expect to hear Indie or heavy rock. I expect to hear John Denver and Perry Como! You broadcast like an FM station and your regulars know what to expect, so they know how you operate and how far they can go.
Kevin yells at people to get what he wants because he in the past he has a lot of evidence that yelling, being intimidating and bullying people works. He’s had lots of evidence from his past to reinforce the idea that when you want something … you get aggressive.
The reality is behaviour based on faulty thinking generally does not work as well as you think it does. And certainly in some workplace scenarios it is not only not condoned it is illegal. For example, Kevin is actually breaking employment law regulations when he bullies staff. And he has priors. Staff have taken him to task under Workplace Harassment laws.
Donna is the life of the party. She clowns around and is a real joker. Everything is a gag or a joke. People are either eventually confused or feel its disingenuous. Ever met someone who laughs at everything? Everything is funny. Donna goes into hysterics at the most benign comments. You know someone like this.
It is actually very quickly quite annoying. That’s a behaviour that needs to change because Donna has had counselling around feeling disliked, ignored and treated like a superficial lightweight. I would argue that at some point in time she learned that humour and being funny made people like her. And we all want to be liked. The problem is her humour was OK for a small child, showed up as being disruptive and show off as a teenager and is no longer appropriate as 60-year old adult.
The faulty logic of a faulty belief is to that behaviour more. People quickly back away from Donna and Donna thinks she needs to travel on the jolliness even more
Karen is bitchy. She went to boarding school aged six and was bullied by older girls. She learnt well and gained a Ph.d in Bitchiness. Karen intimidates and bullies junior staff.
David comfort eats. That’s his faulty belief and what he does under pressure. Some people smoke, some drink, some go shopping. Simon zone out in front of the TV. Some people zone people out by not listening. In most cases you know when you are doing this.
If you have any behaviour you are not happy with I guarantee there’s a faulty belief at the back of it. The trick is to pay attention and there is a lot of research that suggests emotionally healthy people actually explore their faulty beliefs with a view to correcting them. Unhealthy people defend their behaviour vigourously.
It seems most of our faulty beliefs were installed at a very young age.
I worked with a guy who – like me – had something very traumatic happen at the age of seven. Let’s pretend he then ‘wrote’ a piece of what we call ‘life software’ about how life works. The problem was: at the tender age of seven, he didn’t have the life experience to write that software.
At some point the software stops working. At the age of 43, he ends up working with a counsellor who unearths this faulty belief about life, unpacks it and challenges its veracity. He then ‘upgrades’ his life software and the client feels alike an enormous burden has been lifted.
You would not ask a seven year old to assume responsibility for a 43 year old? More to the point, would you ask a seven year old to be responsible for your behaviour? But when you have faulty beliefs that’s effectively what’s happening.
This is not a counselling course but the point of this story is we all have areas of our life that aren’t working as well as they should, or at all. Things we know we should stop doing. Pay attention.
This course is about becoming more aware of non-optimum behaviour and correcting it. In most cases they are habits that are well past their use-by-date. They don’t work if ever they ever did.
OK, YOUR TURN
I want you to think about someone you know who has a habit that annoys you. Or a way of behaving that you believe doesn’t work for them. Got someone in mind? They do that behaviour because at some point in time that behaviour appeared to work.
Now think about a behaviour that you have that you do. Most likely you’ve been told you do this. Then reflect on where that behaviour came from. Often you can find an exact incident. Explore this idea today.
Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com
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© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd