One of the most frustrating habits of long-time friends is how they see you as you were years ago. Unfortunately, managers and team members do the same thing, neglecting to notice you changed. Not only is this oversight frustrating, it can hinder instead of support your growth.
There is a tendency for people to create and then cast in stone a picture of who you are, what you like and don’t like, and what you will say and do in various situations. They don’t notice when your behavior and preferences change. Their static assumptions constrain your interactions and limit your opportunities.
Assumptions are normal bad habits
We all make assumptions. We have to size up situations quickly to determine if there is a threat. Also, there is so much going on in our lives that the idea of taking time to determine if someone has changed in the past week or two seems silly. It is easier to act on memories than to listen with curiosity to someone familiar.
Because behavior is normal doesn’t mean it is good. We should all develop a practice of slowing down and appreciating the people we know. When active, we change all the time as we learn, grow and gain new insights with age. We strengthen our relationships by letting people grow up.
Getting people to notice the new you
So how do you get others to notice the changes you’ve worked hard to make? I found a lot articles on the Internet telling people how to question their own assumptions, but nothing that teaches how to get people to question the assumptions they are making about you. I wrote the following five suggestions to help you fill in this gap.
You can use all five in one conversation or separately. They may feel awkward at first, but the behaviors will become habits if you practice them over time.
- Model the behavior you want. If you want people to notice how you have changed, you need to acknowledge their efforts at changing as well. Duncan Coombe makes a number of good suggestions in his HBR blog post, See Colleagues as They Are, Not as They Were. Practice seeing people as if meeting them for the first time to discover what is changing or what you may have never noticed. In a previous post, I shared tips on how to shift from expecting to being curious. Not only will people appreciate that you notice what they are working on, it simply feels good to “be seen.”
- Be clear with your requests. If someone doesn’t notice that you have changed your preferences or behavior, you can ask them to notice without making them wrong. For example, you could say,
“You are right that I used to like those things and acted that way. I’ve changed over the past year. Can I share with you what I now like and what I’m doing differently?”
“I agree with you that the way I used to handle these situations wasn’t effective. That is why I’ve worked hard to change my habits. Let me share with you the things I’m trying and the results I’m getting.”
“Have you noticed I’ve been (showing up on time, including people more in meetings, listening better, acting less defensively, etc)? I am working on changing my behavior. When you don’t notice how I’ve changed, I feel as if you aren’t supporting my growth. I would appreciate if you would acknowledge the efforts I’m making to improve.”
- Tell the story about what prompted the change. Tell people what inspired you to change your behavior. Stories make a stronger impression than just telling people what they don’t see. Your reason for changing will more likely change their mind than the fact that you have changed.
- Get them to talk about their own changes. Admit that you might not see the changes other people are working to make. Ask them what they are working on so you can notice and support their efforts, too.
- Ask for their help in your continuous growth. Sharing your goals and asking for their support might feel uncomfortable, but it is a good way to direct their attention to who you are today instead of what you did yesterday.
Let’s practice seeing what’s new in each other every day.
If you would like to have me speak at your upcoming event or talk about leadership training and coaching, please reach to me at: http://outsmartyourbrain.com/contact/
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Find more techniques to use in difficult conversations in Marcia’s book, The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs