Mike Normant recently published the book Coach Your Self Up. Normant guides the reader through “practical techniques for breaking through challenges and thought patterns that may be blocking our success in work and life”. I found his concept of “challenging our stories” extremely powerful. Our stories are often linked to the ladder of inferences and assumptions we climb.
Chris Argyis and Peter Senge write extensively about the ladder of inference . It is cornerstone content for most organizational development courses. Yet, Normant takes it apart and shifts our thinking towards a more personal approach instead of the usual theoretical explanation. I was grateful to be reminded of a ladder of inference activity that I’ve done before and seems to always nudges me towards my better self.
Try the activity.
Pick someone you don’t really know in a group and just observe the person.Observe for 30-60 seconds. As you observe start listening to the story you are creating in your head. What story did you create? What assumptions did you make? What “facts” did you create? What did you notice about yourself? Did you like what you noticed about your thinking? Did you test your assumptions?
I did this activity last night sitting at the Minneapolis airport. I quickly found a woman wearing a Vikings football team shirt. She looked very tired. I quickly assumed she’d been at the noon game in Minneapolis, supported her team, was one of the loud Skol fans, had been tailgating in the cold rain like the 100’s of other fans and was now trying to catch a flight home. In less than 30 seconds I had picked out little bits of information, stitched them together and made an entire story of who she was, where she was going, and why she wore the purple shirt. And in the back of my mind I was saying…I have never liked those purple shirts, why don’t the Vikings pick new colors! Phew, 30 seconds flat…my own little narrative of assumptions.
Once I finished, I asked myself…”Polly, how could you get more curious?” Normant encourages his readers to use their own name when shifting from inferences to curiosity. As I looked towards her, we smiled at each other and since I know nothing about football, I asked “did they win?” And before you knew it we were having a conversation about her family visit and how they always watch the games together at her mom’s house. The whole family wears their team shirts.I love family stories, I learned something about football, family traditions, and reminded myself. Get curious Polly!
PS: I don’t watch football. I’ve never been to a Vikings Game. I am annoying to watch football with because I keep worrying if someone got hurt. “Ouch, is he okay? ” And yet, now I’ve got my curiosity sparked about Skol fans. Why do they wear those horns on their heads? Do families wear Skol horns together? What does the chant mean? Do families chant together?
Now I’m riding the wave of curiosity instead of climbing that ladder of inferences.