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Assuming Greatness in Others

Assuming Greatness in Others

Jun 8, 2015 12:40:39 PM

When we look for problems we can find them. When we look for greatness, it’s there for us to behold.

Shifting one’s perspective changes everything. It takes intention and focus to look at life through a different lens. This is especially true when it comes to people. It’s easy to find fault, and look for what’s wrong with another person’s approach. Now and again, we all have to be reminded that there is greatness in everyone, and we can find it by looking for the best parts and by challenging our thinking about the worst.

Let’s do a quick experiment. Think of someone in your life, at work or personally, who you find frustrating or challenging. Got someone in mind? Good! Now identify the main thing about them that can trip you up, and that sometimes makes the relationship hard (Okay, there might be more than one thing, but pick the juicy one that is most annoying or troublesome for you). Ready for what comes next? This next bit is simple and should come pretty easily, fixate for about 30 seconds on that part of them that is difficult for you to be with. That wasn’t so hard, right? By now you should feel a heightened physical awareness, perhaps a little anxiety, tension, or anger. This is what is present when we interact with people from the perspective of “what’s wrong with them.” And don’t kid yourself, you don’t have to say a word, the message is usually delivered through micro-expressions that have the potential to impact trust and collaboration. But don’t beat yourself up; we all do it, to some extent. The key is to catch ourselves going to that judgy place and develop an approach to change our perspective and how we experience others (and ourselves). Below are tips to help you flip the perspective switch, and re-balance those troubled relationship.

Personal Inquiry and Reflection Questions:

  • Is your reaction to them, really more about you?
  • What perceived behavior in the other person is challenging a value you hold dear? Which value is it? (Harmony, Respect, Fairness, Caring, Independence, Authenticity, etc.)Which of their personal values is being emulated by their behavior?
  • Which of your needs aren’t being met? How is the other person’s behavior a reminder that you need or want something that you aren’t getting?
  • Is it possible your projecting something that you can’t see in yourself, on to them?

If the thing that is most difficult about this other person, was really all about you…hum…now what? Sometimes we judge others, without thoroughly examining ourselves and taking personal responsibility for our own reactions and responses. A theory in psychology, known as projection, happens when we defend ourselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in ourselves, and attributing them to others. Searching for our part in the behaviors that we find offensive, such as rudeness, not listening, or being opinionated and closed-minded can help us humanize rather than villainize the situation. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.”

Sometimes relationships are challenged because our values are out of alignment, for example, we value freedom and autonomy while others value control and process. When values are not aligned the issues will be perpetual, but the relationship can still be productive and functional through discussions that build awareness, help us understand and value differences, and by designing agreements to find a middle ground for the relationship to operate from.

The first step to assuming greatness in others is to check our assumptions about their faults. Are they weaknesses, or differences? If we want strong organizations, families, or friendships, a smart practice is to look first to the best that is in people (and hopefully they will return the favor!) and to examine ourselves before questioning others.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is the owner and founder of Xponents. She completed her Masters in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. Deb is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach."

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