Did you know only a small percentage of our experiences are based on things that actually happen? Our minds unconsciously summon past experiences to create points of connection between what has happened in the past and what’s happening in the present.
Our personal opinions and preferences, our character strengths, our insecurities and past traumas, and the stories we have about why something happens and what it all means add a filter to the way we perceive an event.
Seeing eye-to-eye is the goal, especially in business, but how can we get from here to there?
The first thing to do is remember is that everyone possesses a unique filter of their own through which they process their experiences, and the second is to do our own inner work to recognize when our filters or biases interfere with clear and authentic communication.
In her groundbreaking book, Conversational Intelligence, author Judith Glaser talks about the importance of having quality conversations:
“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture which depends on the quality of the relationship which depends on the quality of the conversation. Everything happens through conversation.”
One of the tools we use in our trainings to increase Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) and individual and team empowerment is our W.A.I.T. Process. After mastering this method, you can quickly move away from reacting when you are feeling emotionally disempowered or triggered by a conversation or an event, to making a calm, rational and intentional response.
When you have a reaction, your emotions quickly escalate. You are not actually reacting to what just happened but to a set of assumptions, interpretations, and memories about what happened that come from the past. For your brain, though, there is no difference. That’s why people get thrown off by reactions.
To employ the W.A.I.T process and regain your power, you will start with what you are upset about or reacting to and ask yourself this series of questions:
W = Assess what actually happened? (Facts only)
A = What did you assume about the situation and add to the facts?
I = What did you interpret about the event and add to the facts?
T = If you take away what you assumed or interpreted about the event, what’s left?
When you take away the assumptions and interpretations, you are left with a clear view of what really happened, and then you can see a clear and effective plan of action. You are no longer reacting. You are calmly responding to what actually happened.
An example of the W.A.I.T. process in action, consider the following scenario:
Your boss emails you to say she’d like to see you in her office immediately and that you should bring all the files you’ve been working on. Immediately your heart starts racing and your palms are sweaty. You begin imagining the worst possible outcomes. Is she going to fire you? Have you done something wrong? By the time you collect your things and get to her office, you feel queasy and develop a slight headache. But why? What do you really know about the situation?
Let’s put this through the W.A.I.T. process.
W = What actually happened? The boss asked to see you in her office and bring all the files you have been working on.
A = What did you assume? You assumed you were in trouble or getting fired.
I = What did you Interpret? As a kid, no matter how hard you worked in school, your parents always seemed disappointed. You grew to believe that you weren’t good enough and have always feared that no matter how hard you work it will never be enough. Your boss asking to see you triggered feelings of doing something wrong and fear of disappointing your boss.
T = Take away what you assumed and interpreted and what are you left with? Your boss would simply like to speak with you and look at what you’ve been working on.
Why do our minds quickly jump to the worst conclusions?
Neuroscience points to a process called an amygdala hijack where the brain senses danger and whether the threat is physical or emotional, real or imagined, your brain switches over to the fight, flight, freeze or appease response. When this occurs, the amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for detecting danger) sounds the alarm. When your brain is in this amygdala hijack reaction, all its energy is consumed by protecting you from what it senses as danger. It hijacks your executive functioning leaving you challenged to think clearly or make sound decisions. Basically your amygdala has kicked out the pilot and taken over the controls.
This response helped humans evolve by avoiding danger, like being chased by a tiger. The problem is that even though the threats we face today are rarely life-threatening, our brains can’t tell the difference. Even social threats such as having our reputations damaged or not getting what we want can elicit the amygdala response.
Brains use up a lot of energy and to conserve they use memories of the past to make sense of the future. It’s a great tool for learning new things and making comparisons, but not so great for accurately interpreting what’s happening in the present moment. When we feel threatened by a situation, our minds automatically begin interpreting that situation based on past experiences. This creates a cascade of thoughts that are a bit like a runaway train. Suddenly, you’re going nowhere, fast!
The WAIT process helps you regain control of your mind and, regardless of the situation, you’ll be able to think more clearly and react more calmly. By pausing to separate the facts of what happened from your fears or interpretations you placed on top of the event, you regain the power to communicate effectively and can move past the cascade of unhelpful emotions that muddy your thinking.
By peeling away our assumptions or interpretations from a conversation or an event – responding to what is, rather than what we imagine – we can nip misunderstandings in the bud and create opportunities to have great conversations with each other and the customers we serve.
Feel free to download our free GUIDE TO BEING POWERFUL which includes the W.A.I.T. process to use and share with your team.
Our mission at Impact Speaking Lab is to connect people to who they really are, to each other, their work, their organizations, and their power to have an impact.
We achieve this through offering four distinct trainings in the areas of:
- Dynamic & Effective Presentation Skills
If you found this information helpful, let us know. Also, feel free to share it to anyone whom you feel would find it beneficial.