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Communicating With Your Blinders Off

3p Contributor | Tuesday March 29th, 2011 | 0 Comments

by Donna Montgomery, Ph. D.

In working with hundreds of clients & students over several decades, it never ceases to amaze me how frequently we assume that others think and feel exactly as we do (and you know what they say about assumptions!) Even if we “know” it, we rarely use this awareness as we design our communications. And if what you’re communicating about is important, as it is to agents of change, you ignore this knowledge at your own peril.

In Part 1, I presented the Values Perspective model. Having a model in mind to guide your message development is key, but there is another piece that is often overlooked, and that biases the communication so much it is rarely received, or received accurately, by those different from you.

The maxim of “Know Thyself” applies here – or rather, “Know Thyself – First.” Knowing what your own values perspective is – and how it biases your communications (both what you send and what you receive) – is critical. It defines how you approach work, and relationships, and how you see the world in general. Quite simply, you have to know which pair of eyeglasses you use to view your world.

Consider this example that may sound familiar:

Joe has a “Self/Other” perspective, and his boss, Sarah, has an “Organization” one. Sarah gives Joe the time-limited assignment to analyze the pros and cons of implementing System X. Joe goes about the work as he has framed it: learning what he needs to know by spending time talking with others, and relating as a means to make up his own mind. Even though this has taken more time, he is convinced of the quality of his research and is eager to discuss it with Sarah. When Joe enters her office, the first thing she wants to know is where the final report is. After describing the process, and all that he learned, Joe is taken aback to hear:  “Well, I could have told you how to get it done much faster. You have wasted time, and it’s due today. Where is my list?”

I know you can come up with your own examples, because this type of miscommunication happens all the time. How might this have been prevented? If Joe knew himself well enough to know his typical approach to arriving at decisions, he might well have put together a proposal for attacking the work and run it by Sarah. He could have learned early in the process what her preferences were, and adapted or negotiated a middle ground.

There is another dimension at work here that reinforces our own points of view.  The “old” parts of our brains are very attracted to similarity, and are just as repelled by difference. In this fashion, those operating from different perspectives can be quite dismissive of the other (think Democrats vs. Republicans). You can well imagine that Sarah is dismissing Joe’s approach (and perhaps even Joe himself!), just as he is still blaming her for her shortsightedness.

No matter the context, it’s often difficult to open up to other points of view; after all, we’re pretty convinced we’re “right” (another leftover from our ancient brains). But knowing who you are at a deep level provides an anchor and more safety in “reaching” to embrace differing perspectives. Tools such as The Values Perspective (TM) survey can help with this, as can many other tools (one of my favorites is the Enneagram, and there’s an app for that). Anything that enables you to know who “you” are, and where your cares and priorities lie, allows you to learn (and avoid) your potential biases and remove your communication blinders.

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Donna Montgomery is an organizational psychologist specializing in developing leaders and change agents committed to a sustainable future. In addition to her consulting practice, she is faculty at Presidio Graduate School.

Ali Hart is a sustainability messaging and engagement strategist with a passion for life’s essentials: food, water and media. Her background in the Entertainment industry, penchant for humor and MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School are Ali’s secret weapons in her quest to master the art of behavior change and to message green effectively.


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