“Are you thinking what I am thinking?”



The other morning I was playing Lego with my two boys, Eric 4 and Samuel 6. We were chatting and building spaceships. Fortunately, because space is a vacuum your spaceship does not have to be aerodynamic, which was great, because mine looked more like a phone box than a space ship.

Suddenly Eric took a sharp breath in. It was the sound of an amazing idea emerging in his mind. He turned to Samuel and said: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Samuel did not look up, but continued clicking bricks together: “Nope” he said. Eric smiled and proclaimed with pride: “I am!”

Wow, I was really struck by this wonderfully human interaction. It was spoken with a simple and honesty clarity, a clarity that is often absent in business conversations.

In business, the question “are you thinking what I am thinking?” can take many different forms. How often have you had a positive response to the question “So is everyone clear?” only to find people go off and do things you did not expect? So what brings people to say they are thinking what you are thinking and then go off and doing something different?

One reason is that understanding takes many forms. Carl Jung suggested we make sense of our lived experience in four ways. We ‘think’ about it, we experience it ‘emotionally’, we are ‘intuitive’, and we use our ‘senses’. I am not going to go into the theory here, but simply put, we don’t just ‘think’ about our world, we fully experience it. Importantly, it is our full lived experience that informs our understanding and subsequent behaviour.

In business we are in the habit of prioritising logical rational thinking to the point where it leaves our emotional and intuitive knowing redundant. We often assume that bringing emotion and intuition into decision making muddies the waters. But in my experience it is actually ignoring emotions and intuition that muddies the water, leading to unexpected actions. Let’s build on the example I touched on earlier.

In a meeting you ask a team of managers to pass a change requirement on to their teams, only to discover their team does something totally different.

The change you request may appear to require just a simple act of logical compliance, you employ smart people so why the confusion? Just comply with the request. Think about what is being said and do it. Simple…. And if we were purely logical rational beings it would be that simple.

But we are not purely logical rational beings, we are human beings and much more interesting and complex.

Whether people intend to or not, their emotions, intuition and senses will inform their understanding and subsequent behaviour.

A manager who feels safe and trusts their team may spend time listening as they encourage their team to freely explore the change. The result may be a deeper understanding of the change and some innovative approaches to implementation. The next manager may be more socially awkward and feel uncomfortable at the thought of potential conflict, so they decide to e-mail the change and expect compliance. This behaviour may be experienced as detached or uncaring, and lead to a sense of apathy towards the change. Yet another may equate strong leadership with being forceful and frame the change in terms of a threat: “Do this or else” leaving a team feeling unmotivated and resistant to the change. Another whose team doesn’t like management telling them what to do, may want to side with their team. They may send a confusing messages, “Look, I know this is not going to work for us, but the senior management team thinks it is a good idea”. The result? A team that is unsure if the change is important or not.

In each case it is the managers lived experience that informs behaviour and influences the message. It is not simply a logical transfer of information from one being to another followed by an unquestioned act of compliance.

In the initial meeting all of these feelings and intuitions may have been present, but not brought into the conversation because of our habit of over prioritising logical thinking. “So is everyone clear?”

Bringing emotions and intuition into the conversation is not always easy. Trust me, I have sat through enough awkward silences whilst people stare curiously at me after saying something like: “I am not sure why, but I feel really uneasy about this decision, something just feels off”, or “I feel really excited and engaged, thank you for listening to me”, or “There seems to be another conversation going on here that no one is naming”.

Yet it is often in these awkward silences that a new way of making sense of the usual challenges emerges. The simple act of bringing emotions or intuition into the conversation gives permission for others to do the same. You can even hear sighs of relief fill the room “Ahh, I am glad you said that because I am also uneasy about this decision, but like you I have no idea why. Does anyone else feel the same?”

Opening up the conversation to emotions and intuition can be transformational. But it takes courage to be the first, and persistence when others do not join you straight away. But you know what, over time people do join you. After all we intuitively know that our lived experience shapes our thinking and behaviours. And what’s more, good business is about using as much useful data to inform our decision making as Possible. So why leave such great information out of our conversations?

Maybe next time you are in a meeting and someone asks you “are you thinking what I am thinking” you could open up the conversation by saying “Maybe, but are you feeling what I am feeling?”

Rest assured, the awkward silence that may follow will be full of amazing potential.

Author Lee Norburn

Change facilitator and Executive Coach at www.nowlab.co.uk

Lego by Samuel and Eric Norburn


©Copyright Lee Norburn 17/10/2015