The other day, a friend was commenting on a great article she had read, “Stress slows post-recovery workout”. In an experiment, students performed a strenuous workout. Those students with the lowest level of chronic stress recovered their strength much faster than students with higher levels of ongoing stress. My friend’s comments to me were along the lines of, “Isn’t that terrible! See what stress can do to you?”
Later I read the same article, but had a totally different reaction. “Gee, this shows that stress and exercise – or mind and body generally – are very tightly linked. It’s great that they pointed out things you can do to affect your mental state, like mindfulness and biofeedback techniques.”
Same words, different responses
How could we have such different reactions to the same article? We both read the same words, but we interpreted them very differently – according to our own assumptions , experience and temperaments. We were NOT on the same page! My friend has had ongoing chronic ailments and is sensitive to justice and underdog issues. I have enjoyed good health and have personal experience of the benefits of a steady mindfulness practice.
So what do you do in situations like this, when people who seem to have heard the same evidence, listened to the same people or been to the same meetings and yet disagree over what it means? This is a common issue in leadership development.
Assertions and Assessments
Here is an executive coaching approach, combining proven frameworks and practical things you can do.
First, get clear on the difference between an assertion and an assessment.
An assertion is an objective fact for which you can provide objective evidence, e.g. “It’s 5 degrees outside. ”
An assessment is an opinion, interpretation or judgment for which you may, or may not, be able to provide rigorous grounding. e.g. “It’s a beautiful day outside.”
Mixing up the two, treating assessments as facts or assertions, is ‘one of the 10 linguistic viruses’ (You are What You Say, Matthew Budd and Larry Rothstein), that can get us in conflict. Often we have no awareness that our statements are a selective blend of objective facts and our deeply held subjective beliefs.
Second, probe, ask questions.
Treat the statement as a tip of the iceberg and seek to understand what’s underneath the water line that drives the statement. e.g. What is the evidence or source? What is your thinking behind that? How does this affect you personally? Try to distinguish the objective evidence from the subjective interpretation, respecting both but understanding them to be different. This may seem tedious, and people may push back at you as being picky, but some sensitivity and good humour will go a long way ☺.
Third, find common ground.
Where possible, start by finding common ground of agreement on the objective assertions, ‘the facts’ , and move from there to your respective interests and personal views.
Disentangle and make free!
The key to this is to disentangle the two threads, validating both as important but distinct and subject to different ‘reality tests’. Enjoy – and let me know how it goes!