Have you ever had the opportunity to give a presentation about a new way of thinking, a new direction, a new vision for the people that you are working with? People that asked you to come and to help them. While you were giving this presentation that you were prepared for, you were feeling confident about, and you were in your zone that day… all of a sudden, you looked around the audience’s faces that were giving you a look that said not only were they not picking up what you were throwing down but they were actively pushing back against what you were saying. This happened to me, and it was about four years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
I had a group that wanted me to be there, that wanted me to help them. But as I presented I got, “Who do you think you are? You don’t know what you’re talking about! This is never going to work!” And on and on. That first session I had a smile on my face but inside I was rattled. I had 30 minutes between that session and the next session– another round of executives that I was going to try to present this idea to. I had to regroup. I went into the bathroom and did what I like to call my “Rocky moments” when I look in the mirror and I say, “Okay Erin. What happened? What are you going to do differently? How are you going to fix this for the next round?” And at that moment in the bathroom, I thought from their point of view: why are they so resistant? Why were they so angry towards what I was trying to say?
Two things came to mind. First, they were in an industry that had been doing the same things for a really long time. They had been going down one road. I had come in and said, “Hey! Here’s a new direction. This is a new path!” I wanted them to go in a new direction when they were quite comfortable in the direction they had been going for the last hundred years. That was the first thing that I realized.
The second thing… not only was I trying to get them headed in this new direction, but I had also started at the end. I said, “This is what’s going to happen…This is where we’re going to go…” They hadn’t even taken a step down the path and I was already trying to get them to cross the finish line. What I realized was, there was a lot of change that I was asking them to go through and I needed to pull back and start with baby steps before we started sprinting. I realized what I wanted them to do was to just be positive about where we were going. Look for the possibilities of the direction that we were trying to help them go towards. And instead of saying, “Why would we do any of this?” Ask: “Why not?” I thought if they could just live in that world, if I could keep them there, that would help with some of the resistance.
I thought also about those inner critic words. My inner critic lives on my left shoulder so I always think of those words and the thoughts that shut us down. The thoughts that these gentlemen said were, “We’re already doing that here.” “That’s never going to work here.” Or, “We can’t do that. We won’t do that.” I thought, while those voices are never going to go away, I just need to have them put them to the side a little bit. With that, I thought of a diagram. This is the diagram that I use to this day to start my workshops and my seminars. I have a post-it note on my desk to help keep me in this frame of mine. This is the diagram that I want to share with you. It’s the old fourth-grade math sign: the greater-than sign, and in the greater-than world we have the words “positivity, possibility, and why not?” On the lesser-than side, it’s the “we’re already doing that… yeah but… that’s never going to work here… mmm, we can’t do that… we won’t do that, we don’t do that.” The lists out here can go on and on.
Now when I start my sessions I say, “I get it. We have a lot of things that we’re going to go through, a lot of those inner critic voices of fear, of resistance, of uncertainty that are going to come up. But instead of living here, when those voices do come up, perhaps we can swing over and say: ‘Well, what if it is possible?’ Why not take a positive view about it? And instead of saying, ‘Why?’ perhaps we can ask, ‘Why not?’”
There’s my tool. My “greater-than sign” tool that I use all of the time, including with myself. When I find I’m doubting myself, I remind myself: “Hey Erin, stay in your world of possibility, positivity, and why not go forth and try something new?!”
I encourage you to use this for meetings, for workshops, for presentations, whenever you are having a conversation, or a one-on-one session. Jot this down. Put it on a post-it note and remind people when they start to swing back into that world of negativity that we’re staying in our world of positivity. I hope this is helpful.