Published: October 1, 2010
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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The Invisible Blockade to Your Success

Today I’m going to introduce you to an insidious little brat that lives inside all of us. This little dude does fancy card tricks that keep us from seeing what’s really happening, and goes to great lengths to make sure we don’t change or grow.

BratHe puts blinders over our eyes but paints a scene on them so that we don’t even know the blinders are there. He doesn’t mean to be such a trouble-maker. Like most of our internal pests, he’s just an immature part of our personalities and he’s trying to protect us.

What’s this little bugger’s name? It’s Projection. What does Projection do? Projection takes something about you that you wouldn’t like and he hides it from you by telling you that it’s not a part of you at all, but that instead, it’s the main feature of someone else, or even an entire organization. By hiding that part of you from yourself, he keeps you from having to face it and own up to it.

What does he look like? The funny thing about his appearance is that he’s invisible to you. He knows that if you can see him, you just might make him go away. Sometimes other people can see him, but you can’t. In fact, he’s so invisible to you, it usually takes a great big smack across the forehead to realize he might be there.

Now, what does this have to do with work? A lot, since Projection distorts your ability to see things from more than one narrow perspective.

So if Projection is invisible, how can you reveal it and get out of your own way? I won’t kid you and say that it’s easy. Even those of us who’ve been improving our self-awareness for years can miss it, although we miss it less often. But you can get a good running start by doing these three things:

Listen to yourself for a week and see if you are telling “angel and devil” stories in which you’re the angel and another person, or even an entire organization, is the devil who’s causing all of your problems. If you are, stop telling yourself these stories. Just stop doing it and don’t look back.

Here’s an example of an angel & devil story involving a leader who’s always been aggressive about making the numbers but recently didn’t make his numbers: “I know I didn’t deliver the results. But the whole problem is this company’s culture because it’s all about the numbers.”

Really? Seriously? Sure, culture makes a difference, but this statement can only (possibly) be true if almost no one in the company delivered their results. If you’re a person who has always taken pride in delivering the numbers, it’s pretty darn painful to think that you played a key role in not delivering the results this time around, so Projection helps you out by telling you it’s these people who created an “all about numbers” culture. “They” caused you to miss your numbers.

Someone else might be able to see that you played a role in missing the target, regardless of how the culture functioned, but as long as Projection is hanging around, blocking your view, you won’t see that in yourself.

And, the bad news about this is that if it’s all someone else’s fault, you’ve painted yourself as a helpless victim who is powerless to change for the better. Gosh, that would mean taking off the angel’s halo. Yikes. Can’t do that. And this is why I say, “Take off the angel’s halo. Step away from the halo. Stop telling the angel & devil stories about yourself and these people right now. And don’t look back.”

Does this seem like it would be extremely difficult to see in yourself? You’re right -- it is. So the second tip is to ask your strongest, bravest, boldest, and most frank colleague (not someone who reports to you) to tell you his or her opinion of how you might be getting in your own way.

While you’re at it, ask the second and third strongest, bravest, boldest, and most frank colleagues to share their opinions, too. Their feedback will help you see what you can’t see for yourself. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Ask your colleagues to illuminate the situation for you.

What if you don’t have anyone you can ask, or if they tell you but you don’t know what to do? That’s where the third tip comes in: hire someone to help you fill in the blanks, understand when Projection might be doing his thing, so you empower yourself to grow. Sometimes it takes a professional and an outside perspective to get you where you want to go.

Projection is like the badly-behaved toddler of our inner selves. He’s not intentionally trying to cause trouble, and he’s not capable of seeing what he’s doing for himself. It’s up to us as conscious beings to recognize when he might be there, running a little roughshod over our perspective, and to open our minds to multiple viewpoints and understand a situation more accurately so we can take control once again.



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