Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by how many of my new, younger clients have benefitted from a tool I’ve had in my toolkit for years. These clients have all been up front about wanting to get out of a pattern of behavior they recognize as less than productive. It seems you millennials are becoming more introspective as you get older (wink) – and perhaps you’re becoming more aware of your limiting beliefs and want to be free of them.
In any case, I’m pleased to see some of my tricks have stood the test of time. Whether my clients are dealing with communications issues, struggling to delegate tasks effectively, or bridging the generational technology gap, my advice to them has been the same: To get out of a rut, you need to reflect, reframe, and then respond to get better results.
Reflect on the situation. Even before I ask my clients to begin strategizing how to solve this kind of problem, I ask them to spend a little time thinking about the situation as it currently is. Using guiding questions, I have them look for patterns and triggers. So ask yourself: Which situations tend to elicit the negative reactions you want to interrupt? What is your automatic negative reaction when you find yourself in that situation? What story are you telling yourself about the situation?
Next, reframe the situation. We’ve talked about reframing here before (LINK to Thanksgiving blog post), but if you need a refresher, try noticing that the specific way you look at and understand this situation is unique to you. Imagine you’re viewing the situation through the lens of a camera, maybe, and then imagine zooming in, zooming out, or shooting the scene from another perspective. Now that you’ve reminded yourself it’s possible to shift the meaning of the situation, ask yourself: What are some rational alternative thoughts that could replace the negative story I was telling myself earlier? What alternative behaviors would yield a more productive reaction?
Now that you’ve written a new script for the situation, you’ll be better able to respond more rationally and effectively to get different (better!) results. Why spend your energy being frustrated, angry, or disappointed when a simple reframe gets you the results you’re seeking without the angst?
Think it sounds complicated? Let’s walk through a quick example together.
The difficult situation: A co-worker continues to ask you for help with expense reporting data entry even though you’ve already explained the system to him several times before.
Your negative reaction: “Really? Are you kidding me? Where are your notes? We’ve been doing this for months – why don’t you get it?”
The reflection: You’re irritated because something that seems simple to you (Excel functions) isn’t being done consistently by your co-worker. It’s easy to feel like he’s being purposefully incompetent. You’re telling yourself it would be easier to just do it yourself, and you feel like you’re wasting your time coaching him. You feel frustrated.
The reframe: You remind yourself that expense reporting can be difficult and intimidating for people who don’t understand Excel. You realize you’ve been using these formulas and functions for years, and you notice you use them so constantly that the steps are basically muscle memory, while that’s definitely not the case for your co-worker, who just encountered Excel for the first time a few months ago. You tell yourself he’s doing his best, then take a deep breath and ask yourself how you can respond to the situation in a more productive way.
The response: You tackle the situation patiently but directly, with a solid plan for teaching him how to acquire competence in Excel. First, you offer to do the task while he watches and takes notes, which he’ll keep as a tutorial for future reference. Next time, you offer to watch over his shoulder as he uses his notes and follows the steps, just to be sure he gets it right. Then, you give him the freedom to do it on his own, knowing you’ve taught him thoroughly, and you send a quick note or email celebrating his mastery of the software (maybe even explaining one or two other cool things he can do with the technology).
The results: Now, instead of fuming each month when he approaches to ask for your help, you created a solution that gets the two of you out of a negative, frustrating rut.
Who can benefit from this kind of exercise? Well, anyone who believes, as Einstein said, that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Hopefully, that’s all of us.