All is not as it appears (to you)
Posted by Claude Warner on Saturday 3rd April 2010 at 10:11:52
You dash into the office, late again. Thabo and Stu are standing drinking coffee. They point at you and start laughing. This is how you read the situation:
I’m late – I’ve already had two warnings.
Stu and Thabo are drinking coffee – Well, they might be at work, but they aren’t working yet either.
They are pointing at me – obviously they are judging me for being am late.
They start laughing – they probably think I am such a loser.
I conclude that they have no moral authority for being late when they are loafing themselves. It’s easy for them to get to work. They both have cars whilst I must take 3 taxis.
This really annoys me. In fact I am going to go over there and give them a piece of my mind.
You have just run up what business theorist Chris Argyris calls “The Ladder of Inference” or, as it is more commonly known, you have “Jumped to a Conclusion”.
How did this happen:
You observed the data (Thabo and Chris standing drinking coffee, pointing and laughing).
You selected data – this is where you start to filter the data based on your own belief or experience. The data you selected is that they were standing drinking coffee and that they were pointing and laughing.
You added meaning – that their pointing and laughing was directed at you.
You make assumptions – that they are responding to you being late.
You draw conclusions – that they are judging you for being late.
You adopt beliefs about the world – they have no right to judge me, they are not presently working either. This really annoys me.
You take action based on your belief and feelings – you let them know what you think of them, that they have no right to judge you whilst they are standing loafing, especially because they have cars and can get to work easily.
By the time you’re finished there is a vibe in the air and Thabo and Stu both go their separate ways. From then on they are out to get you.
What really happened here? If you had calmly asked them what they were pointing and laughing at, they would have shown you the amusing “Happy Birthday” banner above the door.
When you accused them, they felt exposed because they should have been working. Attack is often seen as the best form of defense, so they gang up on you. (They also jumped to the conclusion that you were judging them for loafing. All they should have done was ask why you are so upset.)
This all happens in a split second, and unless you catch yourself, you have jumped to the wrong conclusion, and reacted emotionally.
The cost to relationships, harmony in the office, productivity, customer service etc., can be high for what was a preventable misunderstanding. How?
Most importantly, if a situation arises where you start having an emotional reaction, stop and ask yourself about the data you have selected, about the filters/beliefs that you have applied, identify your assumptions and conclusions, and only then act.
All is not always as it appears (to you), so don’t jump to conclusions.
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