I just read the book:”Leadership and Self-Deception”, written by The Arbinger Institute.

The purpose of this book is to make us aware of our own behavior towards other people, in organizations as well as in your private life.

Very interesting book with many key elements to broaden our knowledge about how to handle difficult situations. This book is built through a story, and everyone can relate to about a man facing challenges on the job and his family. We can easily blind ourselves to our true motivations and unwittingly sabotage the effectiveness of our own efforts to achieve success and increase happiness.

Let me try to explain what the authors are trying to tell us about being in or out of the box.

When we are in the box, we invite others to be in the box in response. We blame others and only see our selves as important. So what happens is, because you feel justified in blaming others while you are in the box, you feel their blame is unjust and continue to blame even more. The box makes us ineffective, let us fail in communication and is destructive. From within the box, we are complaining about things and other peoples behaviors.

Here are an idea according to the authors of what doesn’t work in the box:

1. Trying to change others

2. Doing my best to “cope”with others

3. Leaving

4. Communicating

5. Implementing new skills or techniques

6. Changing my behavior.

“The box is a “metaphor” for how we are resisting others. By resisting, it means that our self-betrayal isn’t passive. We are actively resisting what the humanity of others calls us to do for them, in the box.

Self-deception is so pervasive that it touches every aspect of life, and it determines one’s experience in every aspect of life, says the authors.

Given an example and idea of what’s at stake, consider the following analogy. An infant is learning how to crawl. She get lodged beneath the furniture. She gets angry and is stuck. To get herself out-she pushes harder and her problems gets even worser. She would blame the furniture for her troubles if she could talk. The problem couldn’t be hers. But of course the problem is hers, even though she can’t see it.

This illustrates according to the authors that”self-deception blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the “solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse”.

These problems occur both at work and in the private zone.

It can seem like we have a tendency of blaming other people for our own mistakes. Why is that an issue ? Blaming other people leads to nowhere in organizations, and may end up with many closed doors because of the destructive pattern it may create.

According to the  Arbinger Institute “self-deception is a particularly difficult sort of problem. To the extent that organizations are beset by self-deception,and most of them are, they can’t see the problem. Most organizations are stuck in the box”.

“Out of the box: I see myself and others more or less as we are-as people”.

“In the box: I see myself and others in a systematically distorted way, others are mere objects”.

In organizations we are gathered with knowledgeable people, and everybody is trying to do their best. To achieve a good sharing culture, we need to listen to each other, be open, understanding, and be able to see our own weaknesses in ourselves.

“If two or more people are in their boxes toward each other, mutually betraying themselves, we often call it “collusion”. And when we’re in collusion, we actually collude in condemning ourselves to ongoing mutual mistreatment. The more people we can find to agree with our side of the story, the more justified we will feel in believing that side of the story”.

Collusion in organizations is a common thing and need to be taken seriously to make us aware of the negative outcome. Gossip about others at work leads to nowhere, and it may gather allies in our collusion against another person or department.

In the box the authors say, people tend to be very results focused and anything but that, you are focused on your self. And people in the box, “value results primarily for the purpose of creating or sustaining their own stellar reputations-their who-focus is themselves. And you can tell because they generally don’t feel that other people’s results are as important as their own”.

You can both be in and out of the box at the same time. in the box toward some people and out toward others.

A leader in the box can be damaging, and he or she makes it too easy for others to revert to their boxes as well. “The leaders that people choose to follow are the leaders who are out of the box. When you are free of self-betrayal, then you invite others to be free of self-betrayal. Only then you are creating leaders like yourself, coworkers whom people will respond to, trust, and want to work with. You owe it to your people to be out of the box for them”.

The key element is to see and honor our colleagues as people, with needs, hopes, and worries as real and legitimate as our own- in that moment we are out of the box towards them.

If we can take some time and reflect about how we behave towards other people, this is a beginning to a better life for most of us.

Inger Lise E. Greger, MSc. Change Management 

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