By Judith E. Glaser
We live in a world of moving targets. Once we get into routines we feel comfortable, and from comfort comes confidence. Yet in a world of moving targets, we need to be open to change.
Inevitably, we encounter many changes in our work lives—changes that require energy, focus, and commitment. Some changes throw you into I-centric response as you will feel you need to protect what you have and prevent loss. Some changes inevitably lead to defensiveness as you try to hold on to what you have created.
Sometimes we don’t change because change means taking risks. We don’t like to fail, and we protect ourselves from looking bad. Not changing feels like a familiar haven that protects us. It makes us feel smart because we repeat what we know and we think we know it all. As we perpetuate the illusions, we fail to realize—precisely because it all feels so safe and reassuring—that we are trapped by our comfortable assumptions about what constitutes safety and success.
How We Feed Our I-Centric Habits
Neuroscience teaches us that when we get caught in an Addicted to Being Right habit pattern it’s hard to change because our brain produces high levels of dopamine—a reward neurotransmitter that reinforces our desire to repeat that pattern. While this addictive I-centric pattern makes you feel powerful and drives you to crave more of it, this power-over pattern can also push you away from others who find your addiction egotistical and arrogant.
I-centric thinking is based on a scarcity power-over mindset—thinking that suggests that sharing power with others is a sign of weakness; talking about feelings is soft; pleasing the boss is more important than pleasing the customer; telling people what to do is the same as communicating; telling people what to do will make them line up behind your vision; being the authority and having all the answers are the most important parts of leadership; telling people what you want over and over again gets your message across (when you are broadcasting “those idiots don’t get it!”); there is nothing you can do about territoriality (and so you do nothing about it); your job as a leader is to change others and get them to buy-in; it’s a weakness to say, “I made a mistake”; and winning means, “I win, they lose.”
What Fuels Our Engagement? Protect or Connect?
The Addiction to Being Right pattern is built on the fear of being wrong! So you fight for your point of view, needing to win at all costs. When you perceive the world through a lens of fear, your ego drives you into habit patterns of protection, and you unconsciously incorporate defensive behavior patterns into your daily routines. You tend to turn away rather than turning to others for help when making vital changes.
Part of our brain is designed for protection; other parts are designed for connection. Inside the limbic brain is the amygdala, a small structure that senses threats, and helps us to protect our turf. The primary role of the amygdala, the emotional core of the brain, is triggering the fear response, which it does through a series of changes in brain chemistry and hormones that put the body in a state of anxiety. The limbic brain handles the emotions of anger, fear and sadness. Despite the enormous untapped potential in our brain capacity, our brains still contain organs hard-wired with guidance that reflects the multiple layers of evolution tightly packed into that small cavity in our heads. Each system speaks to the others. Each plays a role in driving behavior. And, we need to learn how the systems interplay to master our own behavior.
As we learn how to reframe or shift our focus from fear-based thinking to embracing the future with energy, compassion and connection for achieving success with others, we initiate a shift in our brains that moves us from pessimism to optimism—transforming habits that hold us back into new patterns that catapult us into creating a culture of WE.
Seven I-Centric Habit Patterns
As you read the followng seven I-centric habit patterns, identify ones that do not serve your organization and see them as opportunities to develop WE-centric patterns. Monitor your impact. Notice how, by shifting to WE-centric patterns, you increase positive energy, focus your colleagues on creating the future, and enable greater leadership behaviors in everyone.
1. So, I’m the boss:
Fear of giving up power and control; the belief that you need to tell people what to do.
Impact: You do it all; limit the accountability of others; fail to access organizational genius.
2. I’ve got a case on you:
Blame others for making mistakes; build cases and play off weaknesses; be judgmental.
Impact: Holding grudges; resting on your laurels, limiting growth; negative workplace culture.
3. Giving up, giving in.
Fear of the future; resigned to less than what you want; bailing out; hopelessness; loss of will.
Impact: Stagnation, loss of will, dissatisfaction, and frustration.
4. Hanging on for dear life:
Fear of sharing; holding on to knowledge and past successes; carrying baggage.
Impact: Destroys relationships; limits potential; limits personal power.
5. Know it all:
Has all the answers; doesn’t listen to others.
Impact: Assumptions and inferences; closed-down space.
6. I lost my voice!
Accept authority; follow Groupthink and maintains the status quo; unwilling to rock the boat; unsure of own voice.
Impact: Mediocrity; loss of insight and inspiration.
7. Taking it to heart:
Taking others’ points of view to heart; loss of trust in instincts; negative self-talk.
Impact: Loss of spirit and self-esteem; stops engaging.
How are you showing up at work? Audit yourself to detect negative habit patterns that may be standing in the way of creating a culture that encourages mutual trust, accountability and co-creation. If you’re not creating a culture that encourages WE-centric behaviors, what can you do differently, starting today?
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion) Visit www.conversationalingelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; firstname.lastname@example.org,212-307-4386.