Consider this scenario: A new manager is assigned to your department. There is an all-hands meeting where she is introduced to the staff. Everyone in the room takes in the same data: what she looks like and how she behaves. She makes a few comments, which focus on how happy she is to be joining the department and getting to know the team. Post-meeting, there’s a lot of chatter around the water cooler. While some of your associates liked her, others have already characterized her as “bad news.” What’s going on? To help us understand the different responses, we look to cognitive behavioral therapy.
We don't live in an AC world and I am not referring to air conditioning. AC are two parts of cognitive behavioral therapy: Activating Event and Consequences. The third part is B or Beliefs. The underlying concept of cognitive behavioral therapy is our brain has cognitive powers. We store experiences, thoughts and feelings. What drives what we do is not the Activating Event. Rather, it's our Beliefs. We see, think and act ABC: Activating Event—Beliefs–Consequences. To take a conscious approach to leadership (and life), we need to work towards distinguishing between the event and our interpretation of the event. It’s our assumptions and beliefs that impact the intensity and quality of our responses.
Our understanding of the brain’s ability to be shaped by our experiences and thoughts is supported by research in the field of neuroscience. Research has shown that repeated mental activity causes repeated neural activity, which in turn actually changes the neural structure and function of the brain.
Let’s transition from theory to practice and consider our scenario. Repeat experiences and corresponding thoughts over time, whether negative (bosses are bad) or positive (bosses are good), take control of a portion of our brain map. New boss arrives and our emotions and behaviors are triggered not by her but by how we interpret her as “boss.” And, we are largely unconscious about why we respond the way we do.
The not-so-good news is we can never get rid of these assumptions and beliefs because they are part of our brain maps. The good news is understanding ABC gives us the ability to catch ourselves and make different choices. If we want to be outwardly-effective, we need to ensure our emotions and behaviors are not knee-jerk reactions based on what could be faulty assumptions and beliefs. It is the process of looking inward and taking a beat before we act, which leads us to more measured, thoughtful and productive responses.