We have all been in situations, both at work and in our personal lives, where other people just seem to be in the way. They just don’t get it. They don’t understand us or what we need. They are selfish and self-centred.
In those situations, the authors say, we are “in the box” and are suffering from self-deception.
This excellent book by the Arbringer Institute pulls back the blinds that are making us act in a way that is toxic to relationships – business and personal – and guides us how we can identify when we are under the influence of self-deception and self-betrayal. And by how by changing our frame of mind, we can get out of the box and benefit from appreciation of others.
What Being “In The Box” Looks Like
Let’s start with an “in-the-box” example we can all relate to.
Joe is taking a short flight for business and arrives at the airport with just enough of a window to get to the gate and board.
As he gets to security, the lines are long with holiday travellers and their children. Joe sighs. In front of him is a young woman who is struggling with three small children and the bags that that responsibility demands.
She looks at Joe, Joe looks through her at the gaps at the x-ray conveyor, mentally trying to will her to hurry the heck up.
Suddenly, one of Joe’s fellow business travellers steps forward and asks her if he can help.
In this example the core premise of the book is illustrated. Joe is “in the box”. He considers himself the centre of the universe, more important than others. He sees the young family as objects getting in his way, stopping him from getting to the gate on time. The other traveller, the one that helped the young woman, is “out- of the box”.
The same type of situation can occur at work.
John was given an assignment to draft a response to a customer need. His boss gave him a short brief and pointed in the vague direction of support materials. When the customer declined the offer the “lessons learned” were not unusual.
From John’s perspective why had his boss not given better instruction? If he had, he could have done a better job. His boss is just a dictator: doesn’t say what he needs but is quick to criticise. From the boss’ perspective: John is just useless. He should have known by know what was needed. They lost a good contract because of him. Now, they’ll need consider his future.
In this work example, who is in the box? Both of them. Both see the other as a barrier to achievement. As an object, not a person.
In both cases the “in-the-box” perpetrators are self-deceived. They cannot see the true needs of the other party, they are focussed internally and hence cannot appreciate the perspective of others.
Their view of themselves and others is distorted from reality. They are deceiving themselves from the true picture.
The Arbringer Institute claims that in business, self deception is the underlying cause of what are commonly known as “people problems.” And that to the extent that organizations are beset by self-deception —they can’t see the problem.
Most organizations are stuck in the box. Success in an organization is a function of whether we’re in the box or not, and that our influence as leaders depends on the same thing.
How We Get in the Box
If we had time to step back from potential “in the box” situations – to press pause on life – I’m sure we would be able to identify what was appropriate.
We can clearly identify in our examples the needs of the family, the needs of Joe, the needs of John and his boss and can see – with the advantage of “pause” – what is right.
Think of a time when you felt you should help a co-worker but then decided not to. Or a time when you felt you should apologize to someone but never got around to doing it.
Or a time when you knew you had some information that would be helpful to a co-worker, but you kept it to yourself.
Or a time when you knew you needed to stay late to finish some work for someone but went home instead—without bothering to talk to that person about it.
These are situations where we knew what was right but we didn’t go there.
This is what the authors call an act of self betrayal. It sets off a chain reaction of negative consequences.
In acting contrary to our sense of what was appropriate, we go against our own sense of how we should be toward another person.
We begin to see the world in a way that justifies our self-betrayal. We look for and find reasons that justifies our behavior.
By seeing the world in a self-justifying way, we inflate other’s faults. We inflate our own virtue. We inflate the value of things that justify our actions. We blame others.
When we betray ourselves, we start seeing things differently—our view of others, our self, our circumstances—everything is distorted in a way that makes us feel okay about what we are doing.
Most of us have self-justifying images we’re carrying around, always ready to defend them against attack.
What we need most while we are in the box is to feel justified. So, we lay the blame for any failure or issue on those who don’t conform with our image. We pull them into the box with us and in turn they blame us for blaming them unjustly.
Now they’re in the box too, and they feel justified in blaming us and feel that our further blame is unjust.
So they blame us even more and off we go on an ever deepening downward spiral.
It’s as if we say to each other, ‘Look, I’ll mistreat you so that you can blame your bad behaviour on me if you’ll mistreat me so that I can blame my bad behaviour on you.’
If we’re in the box, we’ll be inviting others to be in the box, too, and we’ll end up with self-betrayal getting in the way of what we’re trying to do – helping the organization and its people to achieve results.
One person in an organization, by being in the box and failing to focus on results, provokes his or her co-workers to fail to focus on results as well. Collusion spreads far and wide, and the result is that co-workers position themselves against co-workers, workgroups against workgroups, departments against departments.
Getting Out of the Box
So the big question is: ‘How do we get out of the box?’. It’s really two questions. The first question is ‘How do we get out?’ and the second is ‘How do we stay out once we’re out?’
Note though, when you’re feeling that you want to be out of the box for someone, in that moment you’re already out. You’re feeling that way because you’re now seeing him or her as a person. In feeling that way toward that person, you’re already out of the box.
When we cease resisting the feelings and desires of others, we’re out of the box—liberated from self-justifying thoughts and feelings. Getting out of the box is simple – all we need to do is focus on the people who are right before our eyes.
In that moment—the moment we see another as a person, with needs, hopes, and worries as real and legitimate as our own—we are out of the box toward them.
The crux of getting out of the box is an understanding of the difference between knowing and doing. It’s critical to getting out that we live the solution, primarily recognising that slip ping into the box is easier than staying out.
Here are some things we can can start doing to stay out:
- Don’t try to be perfect, just try to be better.
- Don’t look for other people’s boxes. We should look for our own.
- Don’t accuse others of being in the box. We should try to stay out of the box our self.
- Don’t give up on ourselves when we discover we’ve been in the box.
- Don’t deny that we’ve been “in the box” when we have been. We should apologise and then just keep moving forward, trying to be more helpful to others in the future.
- Don’t focus on what others are doing wrong. We should focus on what we can do right to help.
- We should not worry whether others are helping us. We should worry whether we are helping others.
It’s critical that we honour what our out-of-the-box sensibility tells us we should do for others.
However—and this is important, especially in business—this doesn’t necessarily mean that we end up doing everything we feel would be ideal. We have our own responsibilities and needs that require attention, and it may be that we can’t help others as much or as soon as we wish we could.
In those situations, we will have no need to blame them and justify ourselves because we will still be seeing them as people that we want to help, even if we are unable to help at that very moment or in the way we think would be ideal.
We simply do the best we can under the circumstances. It may not be the ideal, but it will be the best we can do—offered because we want to do it.
Leadership Out Of The Box
Here’s an example of what being out of the box looks like in a business environment.
Understanding the impact of being “in and out of the box” led a CEO to institute a new way of tackling problems in their company.
Rather than going to the person he thought was causing the problem and demand that that person fix it, the CEO began to consider how he himself might have contributed to the problem.
He then called a meeting including each person in the chain of command down to the level where the problem was existed. He began the meeting by identifying the problem. He laid out all the ways he thought he had negatively contributed to the culture that had produced the problem and proposed a plan to rectify his contributions to the problem.
He invited the person directly below him to do the same thing. And so on down the line.
By the time it got to the person most immediately responsible for the problem, that person publicly took responsibility for his contributions to the problem and then proposed a plan for what he would do about it.
In this way, a problem that had gone on literally for years was solved nearly overnight when the leaders stopped simply assigning responsibility and began holding themselves strictly accountable.
This is now the model in that company for solving every problem they encounter.
Being in the box encourages ever increasing levels of negativity. Being out of the box demands appreciation of others as people with their own needs not objects to support yours. When you think of others without self-justification you are immediately out of the box.
To remain out requires acceptance of the negative influence of personal needs and a mind shift to look outwards.
Companies in the box struggle to succeed colluding to fail. Companies out of the box are open and work collaboratively to success.
You may also like to read:
- Awesomely Simple by John Spence
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
- Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman
- The Leadership Gap by Lolly Daskal
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
- The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden