Becoming an Inspiring Leader: Interpretations

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In my last blog post we talked about how fear often holds us back (click here to read that post). I’d like to introduce you to fear’s not so distant cousins – assumptions, limiting beliefs and interpretations. All three can hold us back in relationships; at work, at home, with friends, in church, anyplace we are in contact with people. They also really rear their ugly heads all the time in social media. Today we’re going to get familiar with interpretations.  So what are interpretations?

From the coaching world, we define interpretations as “your interpretation of the world, situations, events, experiences based on your beliefs and perspective.” It’s the story we tell ourselves about what is going on.

Now stories are awesome (I still have some favorites from childhood), but here’s the rub. It is generally pretty darn hard to know other people’s intentions or every bit of their circumstances. No one else has exactly the same viewpoint or perspective. The only ones we know are our own. I sincerely wish I could say all of my intentions and motives were 100% pure. But I can’t.

When we mess up, we tend to blame it on our circumstances. When others mess up we blame their character. When I’m late, it’s because of traffic, the kids, the dog, my flat tire. When someone else is late it’s because they are obviously rude and selfish. That’s how we think.

We start deciding that we KNOW the intent behind another’s actions. Can’t you just hear one of your kids saying “I know he meant to hurt me?” We decide a person is lazy, rude, selfish, too conservative, too liberal, too old or young, or whatever – because we saw them do X, Y or Z. Possibly completely out of context. We assign a personality or character to them that might not be at all accurate – which then impacts our how we treat them.
Interpretations hold us all back. And as leaders they can be really damaging.

Here are some examples:

  • When we don’t give someone the opportunity to learn and grow – thinking because they made a mistake because they are lazy or dumb.
  • When we get an email that is short and direct and decide the person is mad at us.
  • When we choose not to hire the person that is dressed differently because they won’t “fit in to the culture.”
  • When we think a person is not able to do a job because they have a quiet personality.
  • When we read a Facebook or LinkedIn post and decide someone is too liberal (or conservative), too religious, too vocal, too whatever and write them off.

What can we do to avoid assumptions holding us back?

  • If you aren’t sure about something, ask.
  • If you don’t agree, engage (respectfully and in an appropriate venue) in a conversation to find out why they think differently.
  • Be aware when you interpret without the facts.
  • Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and question your interpretations. Ask yourself “why do I think that?” or “How true is that?” or “What else could be going on?”
  • Be willing to give others the grace we’d want for ourselves. Always err on the side of grace.

What are some examples of ways you let interpretations get the best of you? What other methods do you have for avoiding the pitfalls of interpretations?