Explaining to Do

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September 2014

Explaining to Do
Your explanations are more important than your circumstances. This is the general theme of Dr. Martin Seligman in his book, “Learned Optimism”.

As it turns out, healthy adults need to make sense of their worlds and the things that happen. Often without awareness, an event will take place and we will begin to offer ourselves an explanation as to why a certain event has happened and what it actually means. We owe ourselves an explanation. According to Seligman, we all have an “explanatory style” in order to account for life’s happenings. And there are differing explanations for each and every experience.

When I work with organizations prior to and during meaningful change, I make sure we refresh on the notion that during these times, most possess a strong appetite for information. In times of change we self-filter and need to get the question answered, “What about me?” And if we can’t get an answer, we tend to back-fill with our own speculation and explanations.

We need an explanation. So we habitually feed ourselves explanations. Constantly. The intent of this brief communication is to shed some light on this hidden aspect of executive and leadership performance and to ask a key question. Can you control your explanations? You know you cannot control all of your circumstances (although some strive toward it!).

Try this out. You arrive at a meeting with another to discover that they are nowhere to be found. Hmm. What is your explanation?

They don’t respect me
They’ve gotten into some kind of accident or emergency/urgency
They’re going to be late because they’re irresponsible and out of control
Don’t know, but I can use this time as recovered time in my busy day (hurray!)
At some point we need to explain to ourselves why, and it is in these explanations that we determine how disadvantaged or how energized and productive we are going to be.

The leadership piece of this is compelling. If it is true that people are in the business of explaining to themselves on a continuous basis, then what does that mean to you as you lead them? How valuable is thorough and varying communication (two-way) in your organization?

Yes, we all have some explaining to do… and this is rich in opportunity.


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