Jo and Sam both work on the Organisation Development (OD) section of a large local authority and their work involves submitting proposals for OD to projects to the Senior Management Team for approval.
Jo believes that Senior Management do not support new ideas. She backs this up by explaining that her budget submission for this year was turned down flat and that this particularly upset her given that her previous year’s budget had been approved. She goes on to point out that in the last six months six out of ten project inception proposals had been declined. She feels that senior management are just too conservative and tend to reject anything new.
Sam believes that Senior Management are supportive of new ideas. To illustrate this he points out that although his budget for this year was turned down, last year’s submission, which was far more radical, was approved. He says that four out of every ten project inception proposals are approved and that many of the ones rejected should never have been submitted in the first place. In Sam’s view the Senior Management team are very conservative and so need a compelling case to support a new idea.
Same roles, same circumstances, same management team, but utterly polarised beliefs about them.
Believing the senior management team to be unsupportive Jo is likely to work on her budgets without any real enthusiasm and to do only what is necessary on her reports knowing they’ll probably be rejected anyway.
Believing the senior management team to be supportive, Sam is likely to produce a highly detailed budget submission and to make sure his reports show a strong supporting case for his suggestions.
Jo is likely to be turned down, Sam is likely to be supported, adding further supporting evidence to each of their beliefs.
The reinforcement of beliefs is further strengthened by an area of our brains known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Our RAS is a filtering system that prevents us being overloaded by the huge array of stimuli that assail our senses every day. Have you ever noticed that if you see a car with an unusual colour that you suddenly seem to see them everywhere? This is your RAS at work. Cars of that colour were always there but your RAS has now been alerted to notice them.
In our story above, Jo’s RAS will provide lots of supporting evidence to reinforce her belief about the senior team. Her brain will filter out anything that runs contrary. Sam’s on the other hand will do the opposite, providing proof that the team are supportive and confirming his beliefs.
The message for coaches is a simple one. If you uncover a limiting belief, challenge the evidence. Offer an alternative point of view and encourage your coachees to widen their perspective and to consider other points of view. You may not take away limiting beliefs overnight, but you can certainly loosen their hold.