I’m so excited that my 15-year old daughter, Josie, will get her driver’s license in five days. I’m definitely ready to move beyond the “mom Uber stage!”
Since learning to drive, Josie has developed an unusual habit. She keeps a running tally of all the dead animals she passes on the road. And, for those of you who’ve never been to Wisconsin, there are a shocking number!
And when Josie’s in the car with Jadyn, there’s another game they like to play. When one of them sees a yellow car, they say “Mustard car, no talking!” The person who’s nominated is not allowed to talk until they see a red car and say “Ketchup car, I can talk!”
You wouldn’t believe how many red and yellow cars there are suddenly in the world…
These two stories got me thinking: in life, we tend to find what we seek.
The technical term for what I’m describing here is “confirmation bias.” And it’s something we all experience, to a greater or lesser extent.
If you believe Fred is secretly out to get you, you’ll focus in on that and find confirmation in his behavior, regardless of how kind-hearted he is in reality.
But if instead you think he’s a good friend, you’ll be more likely to remember the times he’s been there for you, listened to you, and spent fun weekends hiking with you.
Or imagine you start a new job. You have good rapport with most of the managers, but there’s one called Sadie who never seems to say much to you.
You could assume Sadie doesn’t like you, and then find evidence for that in your next few months on the job. Or maybe she’s just really introverted and doesn’t say much to anyone!
In a nutshell, people are prone to believe what they want to believe. Or, simply put, your focus is naturally drawn to what you look for.
Focus on how you respond
So how can you apply this knowledge in your own life?
In your work, you probably have one colleague that has a tendency to be a bit difficult, whether in meetings or over email. Perhaps they’re the dismissive type, or they can sometimes be contemptuous.
You can’t control your colleague’s behavior. Nor can you magically wish it away. We don’t want to advocate that you only focus on their positive traits, because that would be toxic positivity.
What you can do is recognize the bias you have. You probably already see this colleague as difficult, and are therefore more likely to interpret their actions in an unfavorable, even defensive light.
But, when you’re Thoughtfully Fit, the way you respond to their behavior is always up to you. In other words, it’s a choice you have. How can you respond in a way that gets you closer to the work relationship you want with this person?
So the next time a colleague winds you up the wrong way at work, try the following core workout:
- Pause: Take a moment to breathe. Close your eyes, if you need to.
- Think: Is confirmation bias at play here? What choices do you have? How can you respond with Strength and dignity?
- Act: Take the next step that creates the relationship you want to have.
And, if all else fails, imagine they can’t talk again until they see a red car!