“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration; I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
This is the theory of coaching, and I would assert a very useful way to be in relationships.
I had a mentor once who used to say, “People show up exactly how you expect them to show up.” (Thank you Lou Dozier, Source Point Training.)
There is a book called The Art of Possibility, and in it the authors, Zander and Zander, call this “giving people an ‘A’.” Their concept is that we should not wait for people to earn the “A.” We give them the “A” and then we look for evidence that they have earned it. It is an entirely different mindset. It will fully shift the way you see people. Let’s take a simple example. What if your employee runs into your office excitedly and interrupts you? You can get mad because you feel they “always” interrupt you for no good reason, or you could give them an “A” and assume they must be very excited about something to run in like that. This will change how you react to them even before they open their mouth.
There are two reasons this works.
First, we see what we look for. There are so many different things in this world to look at and we see only what we are searching for. (Check out this video – less than 2 minutes long – for illustration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQmdoK_ZfY) If we believe people are “a certain way,” then that is what we look for and typically all we see in them. If you have decided your employee is a procrastinator, you expect that in her and you watch for it. You will miss the time she was prompt or even early because it no longer computes in your view of her.
Second, people have no reason to stretch and reach to be better around you once they realize that you see them in a limited way. If you see your child as lazy, he has no reason to step up any more and be proactive. It is human nature to behave to the absolute minimum that people expect from you.
And so, how do we expect more from people? How do we “treat people as they ought to be…”? One way is to trust them; to hold them to a higher standard. With our children: “I know this seems hard for you, but I know you can do it.” And then walk away and see what happens. People will surprise you.
With your employee: “I’ve seen you make this happen in the past and I trust that you can make it happen this time. What do you need from me or from anyone else here to support you in getting this done?” Sometimes people will falter, but they will move forward.
Or put someone in charge who often does not step up. And really empower them. Show them you trust them. Show them you believe in them. If in the end they don’t do as good a job as you would have liked, you can offer feedback and coaching. But acknowledge the effort they put in and give it another try as soon as possible.
Employees, superiors, children and even spouses. Give it a try.