Increasing Awareness of Internal Dialogue
Sarah’s team looked at her, waiting. The project had gone well so far but now they had hit a few snags. Morale had been good to this point and Sarah wanted to keep it that way. Inside her mind though, Sarah’s mind was going through different scenarios – the what ifs and the should have’s. As she considered what to say, Sarah’s mind wandered. She had trouble focusing on one line of thought. The seconds passed. Team members were shuffling uneasily in their chairs. Sarah was still contemplating how to respond.
Sarah had trained herself to take a few moments to consider her options. It was not easy and it took years to undo the negative self-talk. For years, Sarah had had a persistently negative inner voice. This voice told her that she couldn’t achieve the goal she had set out for herself. As a result, Sarah never tried anything new and was frustrated by her lack of career advancement.
Finally after many frustrated and half-hearted attempts, Sarah began intentionally working on her personal development. She became aware of how much she was sabotaging her efforts at getting ahead in her career. The big realisation came when it occurred to her how much she was her own worst enemy. Armed with that knowledge, she developed her own internal process to get a grip on a situation and maintain control of herself. Here are the steps she followed:
Get a grip on doubt: nothing is ever certain. For each decision, there is an acceptable degree of risk. Determine how much uncertainty is acceptable for the particular situation and be comfortable with it. Sarah had to realise and internalise that never risking something meant never winning or moving beyond her current point.
Check-in with your emotions without letting them control you: Sarah isn’t a robot. She feels stress, anxiety, happiness and sadness. She learned along the way to feel her emotions and to take into consideration what they are telling her but they don’t run her. Sarah pays attention to when she feels anxious and now more actively seeks to understand why she feels that way. Before, when Sarah felt anxious she would stop the activity. The problem is that Sarah never advanced that way. So now Sarah reflects on why she feels like that and what she can do about it while still advancing towards her goal.
Resource evaluation: Sarah used to make decisions exclusively based on using the least amount of resources as possible. She used to get lacklustre results. Sarah used to think of resources only in terms of money. It took her a long time to realise that time and effort were also resources as were, tips, tricks, suggestions and leads from her colleagues.
Along the way, Sarah also realised that the internal dialogue of a leader is often paralleled in how they interact with their followers. The more aware of her own internal environment Sarah became, the more she was able to coach and guide others to similar insights in their own internal dialogues. This process greatly improved communication in her team.
Looking back at her team, Sarah externalised her own thought process to help guide them through this sticky situation. She affirmed that no decision is ever perfect and that there will also be some ambiguity. This seemed to take some stress out of her colleagues and they now know they weren’t held to a standard of perfection. Sarah then did a quick check around the table to see how people were handling the situation. Some were anxious about getting the problem resolved, others were excited at the opportunity to experiment with solutions and a few others were simply stressed. Having acknowledged those feelings also seemed to put more people are ease because they weren’t forced to be stiff, to pretend that they were calm, cool and collected when they weren’t. And then Sarah began leading a discussion on the resources they had available to them to address the matter at hand. More looks of relief as team members suggested supports and resources. There was a lot more help out there to call upon then some coworkers had originally thought.
Leadership is very much a mirroring process. When the leader has unchecked doubt, so too will the followers. Increasing awareness of internal dialogue and its impact on relationships improves the ability of leaders to lead competently and with confidence.