When the Holidays roll around, just about everyone struggles with being objective. When we add buying and wrapping gifts, decorating the house both inside and out, planning and cooking the special holiday meal to everything else on our plates, many of us get stressed and are unable to see things clearly and respond objectively.
The problem is that under these stressful circumstances, when the pressure to get things done becomes overwhelming, people tend to draw on their past experiences and mental models and respond quickly and automatically to the increased challenges they face. As you may recall from the first blog entitled, "Are You An Objective Leader," the mind forms patterns, or mental models, that are hardwired in our neural net that define our sense of reality and predispose us to behave in certain ways. Simplistically, here is how it works: From the time we are children our minds are rapidly forming associations, drawing conclusions about everything we experience, creating connections in our neural networks.
Our mental models, ideas, thoughts and feelings about everything we experience are all constructed and interconnected in our neural nets. Our expectations and experiences of happiness, love and success, for example become hardwired. We also have mental models with strong connections in our brains for every role we play: project manager-VP of marketing, doctor-nurse, daughter-son; father-mother, brother-sister. We think and act through our mental models because what is wired together fires together.
Have you noticed how often you respond automatically to people, circumstances or events? How much of your life, at home and at work, has become routine? We are often on automatic pilot, responding the same way to the same things most of the time. Especially when we are under stress, when we are tired, or when we don't have time to stop and think, parts of our brain, called the basal ganglia, run the show. During these times, we rely on long established neural connections in the basal ganglia, often based on our mental models, that have in effect, become hardwired for a particular situation and our response to it.
The good news is that all of us have the capacity to be more objective even during stressful times, like the Holidays, by being aware of and controlling our cognitive appraisal processes. So instead of over-reacting or taking something personally, or judging too quickly, here are two tips from the Objectivity Framework that I think might help you get through the Holidays with less stress and more fun:
1) Objectivity in the Moment
Most of us know when we are about to react emotionally. We know when our mental models are being challenged and when reality does not meet our expectations. We can feel it. For some of us, it is butterflies in the stomach. For others, it is an increased heart rate or a feeling of agitation. In that instant, before we respond, it is important to just stop, say and do nothing. Do the exact opposite of what you are thinking. Trust what you know about the mind's automatic responses and be confident that if your mind is telling you to lash out or to push back . . . then you should just do the opposite. Tell the person that you will talk to them later, that now is not a good time to continue the conversation. If that is not possible, have a handy set of questions to create the time and space you need by asking the person to clarify what they are saying. For example: "It is important to me that I understand you correctly.
Are you saying that . . . ?" This may give you time to collect yourself before you respond, and it often gives the other person a reason to pause. If it is an e-mail that is triggering an emotional response, don't reply to the e-mail, or if you do, don't hit send. It is important to be aware of your triggers and develop the mental space, the time to interrupt the spin in the mind at that moment, in order to respond more objectively. It sounds simple, but it really does work! If you burn the rolls, or overcook the turkey, try to be objective in the moment. Objectivity is seeing and accepting things as they are.
2) Principle of Objectivity # 3 - People are fundamentally the Same, But Each is Unique
In my book, The Objective Leader, I discuss five common mental models that often drive our behavior and 5 Principles of Objectivity that can be the foundation for transforming them. One mental model that can be particularly problematic during the Holidays is the Control Mental Model. People with the Control Mental Model often feel that they need to be able to control people, circumstances and events in order to feel good. In fact, 67 percent of the people who have taken my classes or workshops said they had a strong need to control. For many, this causes them to micromanage, be impatient and critical of others, get frustrated when people don't do things the way they would or respond to them the way they want them to. Many get angry when they are unable to change people. Objectivity Principle #3 - People are Fundamentally the Same, Yet Each Is Unique is most helpful in transforming this aspect of the Control Mental Model. This Principle means that we all experience and respond to the world through the lens of our individual and unique mental models. People behave as they do because of their unique frames of reference - because of what is hardwired in their neural net based on their distinct backgrounds and experiences - just like you respond the way you do because of what is wired in your neural net.
Being objective means understanding and accepting that people are fundamentally the same and allowing them to be who they are. If you get angry and expect people to conform to your desires, realize that it is your own unfulfilled expectation or mental model that causes you anger. Instead of trying to change the person or get them to do what you want, objectivity demands that you try to understand and accept another person's point of view, approach, or frame of reference. Before starting the argument over how many tablespoons of butter should go into the stuffing, remember this principle and try to be more objective.
Based on my new book: The Objective Leader: How to Leverage the Power of Seeing Things As They Are, to be released February 10, 2015 by Palgrave Macmillan.