The act of writing a thank you note was the cause of this post. While I believe in the power of a handwritten note and attempt to regularly complete them in an effort to let people know I appreciate them; this was not an easy note to write. Why? Because for a long time I wasn’t thankful.
Often times it’s hard to be grateful or thankful to somebody when it’s in the moment. This is why it is incredibly important to be aware of our perceptions of both people and situations. By doing that, we can recognize our negative thoughts and focus on what most of these situations actually have; positive attributes. In short, we need to continually recognize and think…maybe its me. So back to this note and two other examples where my understanding of and change in perception helped me navigate situations, build relationships, and improve as a person/leader.
The first note…
I found myself writing a note to a person who I have had a less than positive relationship with over the past years. It was negative and had culminated in a harsh, officially documented discussion at the end of last year. This was then compounded by another discussion over the summer to just get to a working relationship. After accepting that this person and I were just never going to have a positive, productive professional relationship I decided to “call it a draw”. Fortunately (I say now), I am not built that way and as a result, it bothered me that this rift existed. So I asked; “What if it’s me?” and after some reflection found that I was so caught up in the perception of what this person had done to me that I was consistently overlooking their value by focusing o the negative feelings I had toward them. As a result, I ended up swallowing my pride, changing my perspective, and realizing that the proper path was to thank this person for all they had accomplished and think about their value rather than focus on their negative attributes. I wrote that card and it has made a world of difference between the two of us.
It is this asset versus deficit thinking approach that freed me from the negativity that was limiting my ability to improve the situation and has helped us both reach a greater level of success. Too often we categorize people by their deficits rather than assets because it is easier and requires a less critical eye on what we are doing. Try this quick exercise. Write the person’s name (someone you are having trouble with) on a piece of paper, make a T-Chart, and label it assets and deficits. Clear your mind and fill out the chart. Once you are done, cross of all the negatives and focus on just the positives.
Now ask yourself: Have you ever seen the person through that lens before? How much positive do they actually add to your life? Does it outweigh the negative and help you examine what you are doing?
The second and third notes are very similar situations…
Both of these notes were dealing with people who seemed to question whatever decision I was making or idea I had at every turn. One of them always did it in a very negative manner while the other one made sure to be polite and preface every disagreement with; “I don’t mean any offense by this.” right before he would passionately launch into an explanation of what was wrong. I consider my self to be a very collaborative leader, but there are times that constant questioning, push back, or arguing becomes tiresome. At a elevated level of frustration, I decided to examine my perception of the situation.
I found that even when it appeared that these two individuals were just being argumentative or that nothing was a good enough solution, they were actually helping me evaluate what I was doing so that I could come to a better decision or action. I am thankful to both these individuals for two main reasons.
First, they test my point of view so that I am constantly pushed to thoroughly examine my thinking and beliefs. They offer a different point of view that needs to be considered. Second, their feedback often reminds me of little things important a school that I may overlook because I am not in the classroom teaching students. They remind me of how to best support teachers, which in the end is key for making the largest impact on students. I wrote those cards because their passion for the profession continues to have an impact on me.
We need to remember that gratitude comes in many forms and it is so difficult to be thankful when we perceive someone is being negative or giving us feedback that is contrary to our internal belief system.
We need to keep an open mind and realize that if we preach growth mindset, grit, and that we only learn through those moments of discomfort then we must practice that by objectively examining viewpoints that stretch us and run contrary to our own current beliefs. We must model if we are to lead.
I challenge you…go out and thank those people that are challenging you. They are the ones that really care, will help you make a difference, and in the end make you challenge yourself to be better. You just need to adjust your perception and ask if it is you. You just need to write that note. Start with one and watch it and yourself grow…