Your Thoughts about Potholes

A theme has come up with a few clients this month related to filling empty spaces. What does that mean? Not literally filling something – like filling a glass with water or a white piece of paper with words or a pothole with asphalt. What I mean is filling silence with thoughts or assumptions.

Let me elaborate. When you do something or something happens and there’s no immediate response, with what do you fill the silence? What thoughts do you have when there is no communication? A client today spoke about sending an email to senior people in the organisation with a recommendation that was opposite to the prevailing thinking. Essentially he was saying he disagreed with a decision and gave the reasons why. As an aside, we have been working on his communication and building credibility with senior leaders so he had spent a lot of time on this email. He ensured it was succinct, factual, respectful and clear. He wrote it and then waited a day before sending it to reread it with a more objective eye.

He sent the email and nothing happened. For two days he heard nothing back except 1 out-of-office notification. He worried he had overstepped his responsibility; he wondered if he had missed something important, he thought he might have offended someone.

Notice what you fill absence with. In the absence of any feedback on his email my client started to doubt himself and assume he had done something wrong. He filled the silence/non-response with self-criticism and negativity. In his anxiousness he checked with his boss to find out what had happened. His boss said that people had realised he made a very sound argument and they had agreed off-line to wait for the return of the person who is away and have a meeting to determine how to change the decision in the direction my client had recommended.

He filled the absence of hearing anything, or the silence, with negativity when in fact he had been right and noticed for his courageousness in raising the argument. He just hadn’t heard that yet.

Another client noticed that her colleague did something which she would have never done. When we talked about it she identified she had a few options for ‘understanding or explaining’ her colleagues behaviour. She could assume her colleague was ignorant and didn’t know the right way to do it, she could assume her colleague didn’t have all the information or she could trust her colleague and assume she did it for reasons unknown to my client.

The same idea can extend to relationships. If your partner is late arriving home, you can assume s/he is caught up at work, avoiding you, delayed in traffic, stopping to buy you a lovely gift, having an affair or running an errand for you to save you time later. What do you fill the unknown with, trust or suspicion?

In the absence of information, communication or feedback, assume the best in yourself and in other people. What do you fill the absence with?