Tag: Inference

Closing the Values Gap

This is a post I wrote for the Vision Room in September of this year.

I say a lot of things I don’t actually do. I don’t intend to lie, or even drop the ball. It is just that I don’t seem to be able to execute consistently what I envision in the future. The gap between what we say and what we do can be hard to acknowledge. In fact, I used to really beat myself up for this, but as it turns out, I am not alone in this gap between what I espouse and what I actually produce. Even Paul in Romans points to this gap: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15) Not living according to our aspirational values is part of the human condition, but not all of us address this dissidence in a way that results in reducing the gap.

I first became aware of this as a theory when reading a book by Chris Argyris (Strategy, Change, and Defensive Routines). At its root, the idea is that we all have two theories in our head at any one time:

1. Espoused Theory
The worldview and values people believe their behavior is based on.
2. Theory-in-Use (Produced in Action)
The worldview and values implied by their behavior, or the maps they use to take action.

At times, these two theories are perfectly aligned and our behavior is exactly what we want it to be, and exactly what we said it would be. Of course that builds credibility and trust in our relationships and we should strive for this all the time. Other times, the distance between our espoused and lived-out values can be visible and even painful. How do we, in those times, create more alignment between our aspirations and our actions?

For Ourselves

When we notice this misalignment, consider it a great learning opportunity. Having the self-awareness to recognize the gap is a critical first step. Rather than beating yourself up over the gap, I suggest you respond carefully:

  • Fix It. Can you correct this now, or is it too late? If there is still a chance to ‘do the right thing’, then do that immediately. As you do, pay special attention to what is the most difficult about it. That will provide insight to the inner struggle you have to resolve.
  • Inspect your Values. Are your espoused values really what you want? If so, then dig deep and do more of that. What was most difficult about doing the right thing in the first place? Work with a friend or mentor to talk through that challenge.
  • Communicate Carefully. Once you are more clear about your actual values and beliefs (not just aspirations), get very good at communicating precisely what you value and where you are on that journey. I believe my diet is the number one factor in my physical health, and I believe we all have responsibility for our own health. However, I am overweight and eat too much of the wrong stuff and too little of the right stuff. I now have to add a caveat to that belief: “and I am really struggling to implement that consistently.” Open acknowledgment of the struggle creates credibility with others and an environment where people may feel safe to be more transparent themselves.

For Others

As leaders in our organizations, sometimes we are more aware of our co-workers’ inconsistency than our own, especially when we are in the supervisor role. How do we deal with that?

  • Stop Assuming the Worst. We often jump right to a character flaw in that person. “He must have lied during the interview.” “I guess he doesn’t really care as much as he said.” Give them a break and assume they had the best of intentions and just have a gap between what they espoused and what they produced. It is OK for you, right? Then make it OK for them too.
  • Remember Your Purpose. As a leader/mentor/supervisor your primary job is to develop the people around you. Getting the work at hand done is important, but should be secondary to building the capacity of the people who do the work. We all need people in our lives to help us identify these disconnects — take the time to have the conversation. “Elizabeth, I know you value treating others with respect, and yesterday you interrupted Shannon several times. Help me understand what was going on there.”
  • Be Precise. Be very careful to describe the problem you are trying to solve. There are usually two problems and people often get them mixed up. One is the specific behavior that created the concern (the immediate problem). The other is the gap between espoused and produced beliefs (the more important problem). Separate the conversation to ensure you are only working one problem at a time. Why Elizabeth was acting outside of her values in that moment and apologizing to Shannon are two different things and should be treated separately.

Your Next Move

For yourself, think about the past week — is there any situation where your behavior did not match your espoused beliefs? Go address it in your own heart and then with the other person immediately.

For others, have you judged someone too harshly? Go apologize and reengage them to give the benefit of the doubt. Be prepared for hesitancy and defensiveness in that person. That is to be expected and is simply part of the process.

What If?

Tamie Folley over Pikes Peak
A few weeks ago I wrote about How Come, a phrase that has helped me understand my own thinking process and all the inferences I make along the way. The corollary to that is What If. I use How Come to understand a conclusion I (or others) developed. I use What If to imagine a different possible future.

Ask Through the Fear

Years ago I was consulting to a large manufacturing company and we were talking about how to make the organization way more efficient. They had just lost a major contract accounting for about a third of their business. As a result, their operating costs were way too high for the level of production they could sell. I was working with a group of folks from around the company to figure out the future and there was a lot of fear in the room. As we talked about that fear, the largest theme was, “if we get more efficient, will I lose my job?” With that level of personal risk at stake, the willingness to find great solutions was, let’s say, limited. These folks were legitimately concerned for their future and they had played the What If game. What If we get more efficient…then I will be unemployed…and that is scary.

We took a break and my colleague Jon Thorne briefed me on our next step. “We are going to play the What If game, but we are not going to let them be lazy about it.” I learned a lot from Jon, and this was a big one. We went back into the room and asked the team, “So, what if you lost your job…what would happen next?” And what if that happened, what comes next? And so on.

As it turned out nearly everyone in the room had lost a job before in their life for one reason or another, and they were all just fine. In fact, many of them told stories about how losing that past job was a great blessing in their life that opened doors they couldn’t imagine.

Limited Beliefs

About a year ago, several of us flew our hot air balloons over Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. I mentioned the plan to a fellow pilot and asked if she wanted to join the flight. Her first response, as I recall, sounded like, “I could never do that, I just don’t have the experience.” In this case, she might have been right, based on the assumptions she was making. See, I was calling to ask if she wanted to go with me, not alone. Our assumptions about the world limit our willingness to engage in the possible. I asked, “What if I flew with you, would that change things?” When we reframed the conversation, she was all in.

I mean ALL IN. She was gung-ho to plan the flight, gather all the crew and equipment required. She executed the flight flawlessly and even wrote an article for our national magazine about the experience. She and I now have a shared experience that was so much fun and we have developed a great friendship. What she doesn’t know is that she did way more for me than I did for her. Sure, I brought some experience and knowledge to the table, but she brought learning and excitement that keeps me fired up to this day.

Your Next Move

Next time you feel the fear of a situation, play the What If game. Keep playing and asking What If until you feel your fear dissipating.
Next time you hear that internal voice say you just can’t move forward…ask what if I could.
What would it take to go out and seize the day?

How Come?

ladder_of_inference This past week, the Coaching team at Church Community Builder was brushing up on the Ladder of Inference. The Ladder is a concept that describes how humans make conclusions about our world. For a quick intro, I love this video from Trevor Maber. Recognizing the concept of the Ladder can be helpful in understanding how you or others think, but what about “short circuiting the ladder” as Trevor mentions in the video? I find the best way to diagnose and change your own inferences is to practice asking “How Come?”.

How Come

How did I come to this conclusion? In linguistics we learn that words often elicit specific responses. In this context, the word How elicits a process response in our brain. That is helpful because we want to know the process (the Ladder) I used in getting to my latest opinion, feeling, conclusion, or action. To take the time and think through what led me here can open the door to self awareness. I recommend asking your self How Come several times in sequence and just pay attention to the response you get (from yourself). In fairness, this might be best done in private the first few times or you can raise some eyebrows while talking to yourself.

The other day, I was irritated with my mechanic. I had taken my truck in for service and the result was a large bill, larger than I could afford. At the top of the ladder, I concluded they were an unethical bunch. So, I asked, “How did I get to that conclusion?” With several cycles of that question, I was able to find these Ladders at work:

  • He is unethical. (so, How Come I got there…)
  • He is out to get me, and my money. (so, How Come I got there…)
  • He is recommending some preventive services I don’t think I need. (so, How Come I got there…)
  • I can’t afford this stuff…money is really tight right now.
  • I just never seem to get ahead.
  • I wish I hadn’t spent so much money earlier this year.
  • I have really failed at managing our money.
  • …and on and on.

Notice here that the top of the Ladder is an attribution about the other guy and his character. Then, as I start to work down my Ladder, that character flaw is reframed to be more about the situation, then eventually about me and my character. The bottom line is I know my mechanic is ethical and trustworthy, and he just touched a nerve in me that triggered my Ladder.

As a result of working myself down the Ladder, I was able to come to a very different opinion about his recommendation, and feel much better about the interaction.

Why not Why

There is a temptation to replace How Come with Why. I would caution against that. Again, back to linguistics. The question Why tends to elicit defensive postures. “Why did you do that?” “Well, because I felt like it.” Recognize the emotional difference if you ask your self, “How did you get to that conclusion?” vs. “Why did you do that?”

Maybe it is just me, and I feel better with explaining the process rather than defending the position.

Your Next Move

Next time you notice you are making a conclusion about the world around you, ask How Come. This is particularly powerful when you are making a judgement about another person. From the video, think of that other driver, the jerk. Talk yourself down the Ladder and give that other person a chance to reveal some extra data.

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