Oh, the joy of discovering I’m not the problem!
All these years I carried the burden of being “difficult to figure out.” There wasn’t any “Quick Guidebook” into who I was and what an inconvenience that turned out to be for everyone else. I was just too complicated.
Well, as it turns out, I actually am complicated but so is everyone else! They may just not be aware.
People typically get frustrated with me when I can’t answer simple questions about myself with a yes or no. Are you shy? Are you confident? Are you creative? Are you friendly? Are you reserved?
To each one, I have to start with, “well, it depends…” because it really does. I’m shy at a networking event full of strangers but not at a dance club full of strangers. I’m secretive about other people’s lives but am an open book about mine. I love serious debates but silliness makes me happy.
Watching everybody else be so clear about their “traits” just made me feel isolated. They seemed to have figured it all out. Yes, they’re assertive… no, they’re not timid… yes, they’re flexible. It looked so simple that I started apologizing for the “trouble” I caused.
Reading The End of Average by Todd Rose put an end to this all. In his book, he writes about the work of Yuichi Shoda and The Context Principle. Caution — he was criticized for promoting anarchy in the field of psychology, so proceed with care — in other words, oh well…
We’re raised in a world where averages are valued. We look at the whole, take the average and lead with that. So, if one’s shy on average it’s safe to say that one’s shy. Isn’t that comforting? It enables us to safely “pick” a box. However, it’d totally lead us astray if we don’t make a clear connection between a specific situation and the specific individual experiencing it.
To explain with an example: it’s misleading to declare “all people who experience infidelity become cautious in future relationships” or “Cody’s cautious when it comes to relationships”. Not all people who experience infidelity become cautious and Cody’s not cautious in all relationships — only with brunettes that remind him of his ex-girlfriend. So, a blonde’s experience of Cody would be quite different than a brunette’s.
The overvaluing of average and the lack of emphasis on the context makes matters simplistic in education, recruiting, performance appraisals, etc.
We want to lead by averages and generalizations so things remain seemingly straightforward. However, instead, we end up with average results. Years ago, through observation, I came to the same conclusion — so imagine my delight that there’s actually credible research to support my proposition!
Shoda and Rose encourage us to think in “if… then” terms to have an accurate analysis of people, self, and performance.
For example: if Anya listens to instructions, then she learns quicker than average. If, however, Anya must read the instructions, then it takes her longer than average to learn. There won’t be an overarching label for Anya as a quick or slow learner. It sounds like a no-brainer. However, many people would prefer to check a box.
I love this! Finally, I have the liberty to not only ditch the generic fitting rooms but the individual ones, too. I don’t have to pick a general trait just so that everybody would know what to call me. There’s no Idiot’s Guide to Asli.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) we all must be in the moment, observe, and make individual and situational deductions. So, what box are others “fitting” you into?
Remember, one size does not fit all…
Asli Aker is a Global Leadership and Organizational Development Expert based in Seattle, WA. She has living and working experience in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East with a client profile from all around the world.
As a coach, Asli has worked with leaders to help them take on mission critical challenges, manage complex demands and remain authentic along the way. She has 15 years of coaching experience with executives, high potentials and senior leaders.
For more information about Asli, do visit her website.
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