To Change Your Business, Shift Your Perspective photo

To Change Your Business, Shift Your Perspective

Human beings crave coherence. We long to be true to ourselves and to act in a way that’s consistent with what we believe and value. We want to live and work authentically. This quest for coherence is hardwired; psychologists often refer to human beings as “meaning-making machines.” Our brains create coherence by knitting together our internal experience and what we observe in our environment, through an automatic process of narration that explains why we and others do what we do. As we repeat the resulting stories to ourselves (often unconsciously), they become scripts and routines that guide our actions. And instead of recognizing our stories for the constructions they are, we may mistakenly interpret them as immutable truths, as “the way things are.”

We’ve encountered countless stories among our coaching clients that shape the way they think and lead, such as, “Everything is always a battle around here.” For better or for worse, our stories shape what we notice and how we interpret it. They inform our decision making and behaviour. If, for instance, you see your workplace as a battlefield, you expect hostility. You’re primed to attack and defend. You may assume that casualties are inevitable. You may misinterpret people’s intentions and overlook opportunities to collaborate. There may come a time when you need to shift your guiding story to one that enables you to pursue new goals or do things differently.

The first step to authoring liberating stories is to identify and examine the stories you tell yourself and others. This helps you understand what you stand for and why you act and react the way you do. Identify a personal or collective challenge you’re facing. What is the basic story you tell yourself about this issue? Our stories are rarely created in isolation; they involve our relationships with others. Therefore, working with the interpersonal aspects of our stories is an essential step toward authoring stories that support our desired development.

If you find that one of your guiding stories limits you, the next step is to consider what you’d like to change and how your story would need to shift to help you achieve the transition. Do you want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, find a new sense of purpose at work, and build stronger relationships with family members? Making this change requires choosing which elements of your story to bring forward and which to let go of.

Once we realize that our behaviour stems from stories we construct and repeat until they seem fixed in stone, we become more capable of authoring liberating stories. 

Reconstituting our stories so that they help us move in the direction we want to go is a process of choice and intentional sense-making. Any leader can begin to develop this powerful skill by learning to recognize the stories you live by — individually and collectively as a team or organization — examining their effects, and refining them to emphasize empowering elements. The rewards of doing so include an increased sense of humanity, coherence, and liberation.

Adapted HBR Aug 2018 Valcour & McNulty


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