Two stick fingers. The right contains arrows labelled hand figure is contained by a dotted circle with arrows labelled 'My thought and feelings' and 'My intentions'. The right hand bubble 'My behaviour' 'My impact on them' and 'Their story about me'

I’ve used this diagram for a while in training that I’ve delivered about feedback. It shows that without conscious effort to build empathy, each of us is locked in our own world, operating from a fixed perspective.

The left-hand bubble describes the stuff that we have easy access to – our thoughts, feelings and intentions. These are the motivating forces that shape what we do in the world. The right hand bubble describes the external “reality” that other people perceive. They see our behaviours, the impact it has in the world (and usually they’re most interested in the impact on them). From those observations and experiences people construct a story of your intent. But there can be a mismatch.

When I use this diagram to talk about feedback I stress that a curious mindset on both sides in feedback conversations will help. It’s too easy to think that good intentions excuse unintended negative impact on others. It’s equally easy to jump to conclusions about intent based on impact and bias. If you can get the bubbles to overlap – and break out of your own bubble you have a more complete view of the world.

It can be too easy to view behaviour as unreasonable because we haven’t worked hard enough to understand the reasons. Most people act from a rational basis. If someone is objecting to our work or rejecting our recommendations, they usually have ‘their reasons’. The trick in influence is to get these reasons out in the open. Adopting a curious mindset will help with this.

When someone objects or opposes – don’t focus on the impact the decision has on you, treat this as information that’s being shared, which will ultimately help you reach consensus. Consider the elements in the world that you might not be aware of, which introduce new “reasons” into the situation. It’s easy to think of ‘errors’ or objections as personal when we focus on the impact on us. Thinking that the objection is situational allows us to explore what conditions we could affect to create new reasons and reach agreement.

It’s easy to equate how a person acts with who they are. Some objections might be driven by personal antipathy. But jumping to this conclusion from the outset limits your potential to find an answer. Premature negative labelling makes it difficult to identify the intent behind objections. Working hard to understand intent and the situational factors at play will help you be a more effective influencer.

Practical tips:

– Build a shared understanding by breaking out of your bubble. Think about the situational factors that might be motivating and influencing others.
– Be explicit about your intent.
– Assume good intent and explore difference.