“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I can not hear what you say.”
Do you work with someone that you don’t trust and so, no matter what they say to you, you don’t believe it? Who they are is blocking out everything they say. No matter whether what they are saying is true and genuine – your interpretation of what they say is going to be colored by your opinion of them.
I once had a boss who would spend a good portion of every conversation bad mouthing someone else. Whether or not I shared his opinion about the other person, the only thing I could think of what “how much time does he spend bad mouthing me when he talks to others?” Regardless of the fact that he would tell me that he thought I was doing a good job – I couldn’t believe that he genuinely thought that. How could it be that I was the only person he thought positively about? I didn’t trust him, couldn’t trust him, and it didn’t matter what he said, his actions drowned out the words.
By the way, I didn’t work for him for very long. I knew that there was no up side for me in that relationship. Only downside.
Today, we are going to talk about paradigm, and how it has a profound impact on your career.
A paradigm is a model, theory, or frame of reference. It is the way you see the world. Each of us has a different frame of reference because each of us brings a different set of experiences and values to our perceptions of the world. This fact has really come to the forefront recently with the global discussion that is going on about equality in the world.
It isn’t a political statement to say that my paradigm as a white, middle-to-upper class woman is very different than the paradigm of a black middle-to-upper class woman. It is simply a fact. Her experiences and my experiences are different and as a result, we bring a different frame of reference to our interactions.
My paradigm is influenced by the fact that I grew up in the restaurant business because my dad owned restaurants. Chances are good that you don’t have that same experience.
I grew up with a stay-at-home-mom, which gave me another piece of my paradigm. I went to public school, and was in the band. I’ve never been robbed or broken a bone. All of these things combine to make my paradigm – my frame of reference - different than yours.
Recognizing, and being conscious of the fact that you have a unique paradigm is important because it colors everything you do.
Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “to try and change outward attitudes and behaviors does very little good in the long run if we fail to examine the basic paradigm from which those attitudes and behaviors flow.”
Each of us tends to think we see things as they are – that we are objective. But, this is not the case. We see the world not as it is, but as we are – as we are conditioned to see it.
If everyone you interact with throughout the day is seeing the world as they are conditioned to see it, what does that mean for you?
It means that you can easily be misunderstood, or your actions can be misinterpreted. Whether the other person realizes it or not. Whether you realize it or not.
It also means that you can easily misinterpret or misunderstand someone else. Before you react to something, stop to consider if the person may be using a different paradigm than you.
These different paradigms could easily be seen as a problem. If everyone is walking around misunderstanding each other because of different frames of reference, how will we ever get anything done?
But another word for these paradigms is diversity. This diversity helps form better solutions to a problem because when everybody comes to the table with a different frame of reference, you end up with more insights and a more complete solution is the result.
Embrace the different paradigms
The key skill that I want to help you develop this week is how to embrace these different paradigms. As I already mentioned, the 1st step is to recognize it.
Spend some time thinking about the paradigm that you have. What circumstances and life experiences have you had that have an impact on how you view the world? Get comfortable with the fact that everything you do is done through the unique lens.
Next, you need to become cognizant of the fact that everyone else is coming to the party with their own lens, and you are likely never going to know all of the things that form the lens.
For instance, I’m never going to know what experience led my old boss to a place where he thinks it is ok to spend so much of his time bad mouthing others. Somewhere in his past, something occurred that allowed him to form an opinion that this is ok behavior. My guess is he doesn’t even recognize that he is doing it. But, it is certainly part of him and definitely colors everything he does. I will never know how that came about.
So, recognizing the fact that we each have our own paradigm is step 2. The reason it is important is because, when you find yourself in a tense situation – either you are having a disagreement, or it doesn’t have to be that dramatic – maybe you are working through a problem at work and seem to be getting stuck – not making progress toward a solution. When you get into a situation like that, it can be helpful to kind of take a step back and say – ok what is it about our paradigms that are contributing to this situation?
This will help because it automatically makes you more curious about the situation. Curiosity is not confrontational. It is open and starts to engage other parts of your brain that will start making connections to things that may have been previously unrelated.
For example, I’m a rule follower. It is part of me and although I don’t really think about it, my natural tendency is to follow rules. Worse than that, I tend to impose rules that aren’t even really there. The result is a lot of times, I don’t think of options for solving a problem that others see. I may overlook an option because it is going to cost money and I have this rule in my head that you shouldn’t spend money unless there is no other alternative. So, I’ll ignore a solution and search high and low to find another solution. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone else I’m working with says “well, if we just bought this thing, it would solve the problem.”
My paradigm about spending money colors the way I solve problems. When someone else comes with a different paradigm, I automatically start to think more creatively because a whole new set of options become available to me.
Another tool for getting the most out of differing paradigms is listening. Now – this ain’t easy folks! Especially when you are dealing with something highly emotional.
Let’s say your manager comes to you and says your performance is not meeting expectations. You think you’ve been doing a great job, so there are obviously 2 different paradigms here. Once you get over the initial shock of it, you can recognize that you and your manager are coming to your interaction with 2 different world views.
You can get curious “I wonder what her perspective is and how it can be so different from mine?”
And then you can listen. Really listen to her point of view. Don’t judge. Don’t defend. Listen. Listen to understand. Listen to empathize. See if you can understand her world view. See if you can recognize how all of her life experiences have added up to a different perspective than yours. Look for areas where your world view may be limited by your experiences and behaviors. Ask yourself if your world view could use an update as a result of this experience.
So, back to Emerson. “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I can no hear what you say.”
Your homework for this week is to get to know your paradigm. Think about how you show up, and what lens you bring. Because to be successful in your career, people need to be able to hear what you say.
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