Monday, February 09, 2009

Just Beyond

Do you have friends that are continually pursuing the same goals? They have something they want/need and they talk about it all the time but never seem to get it? They might want a better job, to be in a relationship, more time, more money, or less stress. And with this friend, it doesn't matter what they do, the goal is always eluding them. Sound familiar?

I certainly run into my share of individuals like this. They always want advice, or help, or a connection. With enough practice, these individuals are easy for me to spot, even when I'm not very familiar with them. The trick for me is to notice the inconsistencies in their presentation. It's a bit general, but usually when the non-verbal signals get really disconnected from what's being said, it's a good sign that it is the words can't be trusted.

When our internal maps gets messed up, it can be hard to realize that about yourself. And if you are trying to help someone like this, you have to be aware that you can't necessarily trust what they say about their maps either. That's why being able to reconcile the physical signs and the spoken words is so important.

In cases like this you can do real damage if you take the words at face value. I have a colleague who has been switching jobs for years. He was never satisfied with the work, or the peers, or the bosses, or this or that. He would talk about his "dream job" all the time. Within weeks of taking any position he would invariably start to find all the flaws and unravel why this job wasn't perfect. Within months he'd be looking for a new job no matter how well he was performing, or how much was going "right" about the current job.

Over the years, I've done my best to help him with connections, references, etc. After all, you want competent, good performers to be successful. And for those years I was always listening to the words. One day I was distracted for some reason I stopped listening to what he was saying. That's when I noticed what he wasn't saying.

This prompted a round of questions to help figure out what was on his internal map. When we spoke about his current job, he reverted to a different verbal map and physical representation. After a few conversations exploring his maps, he was able to bring his maps into alignment and has been very happy in his latest job for quite some time.

What was difficult in this situation is that I'd spent so much time providing my friend what he asked for instead of what he needed. I was missing something so simple, so natural, so obvious. It was too obvious. And that's the quickest way to identify this situation, the sheer simple obviousness of what's being requested.

If the goal is so straightforward but the language and presentation aren't in alignment, there is usually something twisted in the maps underneath. Let me restate this with a few examples:
  • What's being asked for is the same thing as what they want. They want a better job so they'll . . . be in a better job.
  • What's being asked for can't be clearly stated. They want the "right guy" but describing what that looks like is vague and uncertain or changing.
  • The weight of the request is significant enough they have to change state to make the request. They have to change posture, stance, or level of fixation.

Once you've identified a misalignment with the underlying maps, you can take steps depending on the specific maps.

If you are finding yourself cycling on the same issues over and over, or just can't seem to reach that goal that is always just out of reach, try doing some map work. Make sure you aren't missing that crucial symptom that's just too obvious for you to have seen already.

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