What Else Could Be True?

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Imagine this scenario, you are in a meeting with your boss and several of your colleagues. One of your colleagues asks you a question and you immediately become defensive because you are sure the question was intended to make you and your department look bad. You respond rather curtly that you have it under control and insinuate that your colleague needs to take care of their own area. There is an icy chill in the air that continues between the two of you as you leave the meeting.

Now imagine this scenario instead. Your colleague asks you the same question and the thought that they are trying to make you look bad immediately takes control of your mind. This time though instead of immediately responding you take a deep breath and ask yourself this question: “What else could be true?” The thought flickers across your mind that maybe your colleague has an idea to offer you or is trying to help you solve a problem.

It is only a flicker but you grab on to it. Your defensiveness resides and you answer calmly and objectively. Your colleague shares a couple of very helpful suggestions that saves you and your department a lot of frustration.

Sound too good to be true? Try it and see for yourself. I’ve had amazing results with this technique and so have my clients. Here’s what one person I shared this technique with had to say:

“When I feel my emotions taking over because of how I perceive someone else’s actions I simply ask this simple question, ‘What else could be true?’ and I immediately feel a shift back to center. I am once again in control of my emotions and of my day! I am also using this simple technique to help my teenagers deal with not being selected for a modeling job or acting role. It really allows me (and them) to see things from a different and more resourceful perspective.”

We can actually change the meaning of an experience by changing the way we label it. I first discovered this technique on a commuter flight from Dallas to Illinois a couple of years ago and now I use it consistently in both my business and personal life. I was becoming quite irritated with the flight attendant. I felt he was being overly demanding and quite frankly a “jerk” the way he was “pestering” passengers to fasten their seatbelts and turn off their phones. (You’ve probably had a similar experiences.)

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As I was becoming more and more agitated I took a deep breath and asked myself the question: “What else could be true?”

In this case, I came up with: He was very focused on making sure he did his job really well and just overly conscientious.

Now both that he was a jerk and that he was overly conscientious were stories that I was making up – neither one had any factual basis. If I am making up stories about what is going on around me – and we all do that all of the time – I might as well make it a story that looks at the situation from a positive, resourceful perspective.

When I labeled the flight attendant as “conscientious” rather than a “jerk” I was able to interact with him with a much more pleasant demeanor and the flight was a much more enjoyable experience.
Asking this simple question is also a great way to deal more productively with what many managers (especially Baby Boomers) consider to be one of the biggest frustrations in the workplace today – supervising and working with Millennials. There is a tendency to label this younger generation as “entitled” and doing so simply leads to a greater and greater rift between the generations. Ask the question “What else could be true?” and perhaps you’ll come up with possibilities similar to those Scott Sadler, describes in his book, A Guide for Developing Successful Millennial Leaders, including “impatient” and “enlightened”.

Next time (whether at work or home) you feel your emotional state being hijacked because of how you perceive someone else’s behaviors, take a deep breath and simply ask yourself: “What else could be true?” This question as the power to change perception of the situation and open your mind to new possibilities. Great communicators (and great leaders) keep an open mind. They resist making assumptions, jumping to conclusions or making judgments. Great communicators strive to see the world from new and different perspectives and asking the simple question: “What else could be true?” helps them do so.

Want more tips and resources to help you dissolve barriers to business success by unlocking the potential of your people and harnessing the power of teamwork? Sign-up to receive our monthly Blog post.

If you are in the Dallas Fort Worth Area and want to learn more about what great communicators do that others don’t (and enhance your skills in this area) check out the class I am teaching through SMU Continuing and Professional Education: Leader-Language: How To Communicate So Others Will Follow. The workshop offers a deep dive into using language to engage, energize and mobilize your team – whether that is your work team, your volunteer team or your family team. If you are ready to discover your communication style and how to take it to the next level so you can be an even more effective manager, leader, employee, spouse, parent or friend sign-up now! .

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