I came across a very interesting read from the archive of self-awareness and leadership books. (In other words, I don't remember who or why it was recommended. If it was you, let me know.) Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute was originally published in 2000, and the version available now was updated in 2010. I found this book particularly engaging because it has connections with ideas from Theory of Constraints that I have been exploring and using in my work. I also finished it on Yom Kippur - a day of reflections - so I was thinking about my own assumptions around how I operate in the world.
The book is designed as a business novel - telling the story of a Tom learning these concepts. That said, it is much closer to a study guide written in a conversational style, than a novel with a deeper storyline behind it. (Not a bad thing, but just to give some context.)
The basic idea is that people do (and think) many things in that go counter to what their "better nature" would suggest they do. Examples range from pretending to be asleep when my spouse needs help to making rude hand gestures to "bad" drivers to waging internecine battles at work. One one starts the day wanting to do these things, but they do. In short, I chose to do things that rub against the grain of my personal best. What the authors suggest I do next is the core of their thinking: I justify my behaviors to myself. I make it okay that I didn't help the spouse or that I was petty at work. The authors call this self-deception. And when I am in this mode of justification / self-deception, I am "in the box." My worldview is completely colored by my need to justify my thoughts and actions.
The worldview of being in-the-box looks on people as "things" - sources for my need to react and respond and justify. The opposite, or out-of-the-box, worldview is one of seeing people just as they are - humans, individuals who have their own needs. My favorite example is "the idiot" in traffic. I can choose to throw the rude hand gesture or intentionally slow down to "get back at him". Or I can simply remember that may he's in a hurry because he needs to find a place to use the bathroom. That one usually makes me laugh, instead of tie my gut in knots - it doesn't really matter if it is true or not.
The rest of the book develops out of this idea. What about people who are always rude? How does this relate to management decisions? What if someone really does need to be "disciplined"? The concept connects to all of these and more - many of which develop as the story unfolds. The authors' position is that whatever the circumstances, when I step out of my own need to justify my thoughts and behaviors, then I have a better chance of taking actions that will help improve the system.
One line of discussion in the book has to do with interpersonal conflicts. These could be at home or at work. Someone does something that I see harming me ("Why didn't you take out the trash, it was right there!"), and I respond from a position of being attacked. They respond in kind. Escalation ensues. Love does not break out. In business environments, the authors argue convincingly that these kinds of interactions end up causing more of exactly the behavior we don't want. It becomes a self-reinforcing cycle of self-deception and undesired behaviors creating more undesired behaviors.
In Theory of Constraints there are a number of ideas that connected for me. There are the Four Pillars that arise out of The Choice (my review) - two of these are "People are good" and "Every conflict can be removed." When I am best able to embody these principles, I am better able to see beyond myself and look to what is happening around me that is creating the behaviors I see.
And there are the TOC thinking processes in general that are attempts to articulate in a logical form what are more often intuitions and strong emotions around a system. As I read through the book, I kept seeing elements of logic diagrams that are rooted in the behaviors and beliefs people have about themselves.
In the Jewish New Year, and particularly on Yom Kippur, people are encouraged to think about their behavior in the past and atone for harm done to others. It's an explicit day of reflection with a goal of doing better. It's a way to reset on what is it I want to be, rather than what have I always done. As I finished this book Friday night, I could see a lot of connections to the concepts of self-reflection rather than justification of my behaviors.
And finally, for now, there is a principle that whenever I am disturbed, I am in the wrong. This is a tough one to swallow because it often seems like the thing that disturbs me happened to me. That may be true, but my reaction is my responsibility. When I look at the world from an "in the box" frame of reference, I believe I have to respond in kind. But I don't: the world is what it is. I can chose how to respond.
Back to examples from the book, I can even choose how to give corrective guidance: From outside the box, that guidance is going to be geared towards helping people create the desired results. From inside the box, that guidance (possibly even the same words) is going to be geared toward telling people what to do. And people can tell where I stand, even if they don't know this language.