It’s What You Make It Mean

What IF every reaction (emotional or otherwise) that you have to an event, experience, communication or interaction is almost completely about you? More specifically, it’s about what you decide that event, experience, communication or interaction means about you. Stay with me as this concept invites a shift that can transform your communication and relationships, minimize stress and give you access to profound inner learning. Simply put, your reactions are based upon what you make things and situations mean about or relating to you.

I was recently working with a leadership coaching client, and he was very troubled by a decision being made within his organization. He was so troubled that his primary emotion regarding the situation was anger. When I asked him why he was angry, he said the following:

  • I care about the organization;
  • This decision is not in alignment with the organization’s core values; and
  • This decision puts the organization at risk.

All were good points and reasons to be angry (or disappointed) in this decision, but I wonder how effective he was at communicating his position when he was doing so from a primary emotion of anger (and arguably, unstable anger–which causes people to listen less, not more).

After our initial discussion, I challenged him with this statement and question: “Anger is personal. In what ways does this decision impact you personally? More specifically, what did you make this decision mean?” He struggled for a while in coming up with an answer that was about him, but he finally said the following:

  • I’m afraid that something negative will happen to this company and people here will think it’s my fault.
  • I’m afraid that people will think that I’m bull s**t because I allowed this decision to happen.
  • I’m afraid that people won’t trust me or follow me because of this decision.

Now we’re getting somewhere. The reasons in the first list were an attempt to justify his angry reaction, but the second list is what was more true: he was personally afraid about how this decision might impact him.

In addition, the deeper truth is that his true emotion was fear, and because he was not aware of this fear he used anger to communicate his objections to the decision. He also used anger in trying to persuade the other leaders to change that decision. You can imagine how ineffective that approach was and is.

Why does this matter? Let’s look at all the differences between the superficial response (it’s all about them) and the true response (it’s about him). First, communicating from a place of anger is rarely effective – and anger is not the same as passion. Second, understanding that his true emotional reaction was fear would have allowed him to communicate and seek to persuade fully conscious that, while this decision related to the organization, in many ways his concerns were personal. With this awareness, he would be in a better position to communicate and persuade focused on the organization’s needs, risks and interests. Without realizing it, he had been attempting to persuade where his truest motivation was self-focused, not organization focused. Third, this awareness was an opportunity for him to learn more about himself, especially relating to the fears he has (or had) about what people would think about him.

Start watching for and checking out these types of scenarios. Whenever you have an emotional reaction to anything, ask yourself this question: “What did I make this mean about me that is causing this reaction?” Nearly all the time, you’ll find (sometimes painfully) that your reaction to situations is solely about what you made it mean about you. As much as we like to say and believe “It’s not about me,” the truth is that it’s almost always about you. Your leadership, learning and impact will depend on your willingness to own your emotions and reactions, understand your role in creating them, and use this internal truth-telling to more effectively communicate, persuade, collaborate and lead.

If you’d like to receive these Daily Wake Up Calls every morning via email, join our community of different thinkers by signing up here. Please also join me on Facebook and Twitter.


Speak Your Mind