Self-deception is a natural human behavior in which we see our own behaviors in terms of our (usually good) intentions. On the other side of that, people we relate to every day see only our actions, and the two views can be very different! People naturally want to be productive members of society and make a meaningful contribution in relationships. Unless we have one of those wonderful relationships that has candor, the intended and the reality of our actions can cause a lot of negative emotions like fear, anger, resentment, self-righteousness, to name a few.
Self-deception is prevalent and stubborn! The only way to overcome self deception is to constantly compare your behaviors to those you consider ideal, and engage in two-way critique with others in your relationships. Asking for and receiving honest feedback is a fundamental feature. This is easier said than done-you have to establish trust and be sincere about wanting candid feedback or people will only tell you what you want to hear.
Behaviors are motivated by our values and experiences from many sources in our lifetime, including parents, religion, schools, peers, people we admire, and cultures in which we work. Many values go back to childhood, but many we take on others as adults. They are so deeply embedded in our behavior that we rarely understand or examine their impact on our relationships.
In other words, in addition to the ready-fire-aim approach of self-deception, we are often blind to the underlying reasons for our behavior. We see our intentions or espoused behaviors-those we want to use, while others see our actual behaviors. Research shows that in more than 80 percent of the time our intended and actual behaviors do not align. It’s like looking into a carnival mirror that distorts our self-view. And, because the behaviors are tied to our core values, we take them personally and often reject or dismiss constructive evaluation out of hand. This makes it difficult for others to confront unsound behavior without creating tension or conflict.
There is another aspect of self-deception that creates more complication: insulation. The more leadership power you have over people (colleagues, subordinates, children, for example) the more others tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than what they really think. This insulation reinforces a lack of candor. Even people who don’t manage their fears appropriately can be led to believe that they do by those around them. People close to us learn our what we like and don’t like, and together build an intricate, often subtle, system of avoidance or sugar-coating things we don’t like. For example, those relating to you professionally may know not to question your authority, not to let you know when a budget goes out of control, a product launch fails, or a key client wants to switch to a competitor. The reactions of colleagues may be to downplay the brutal facts, try to resolve the problem without your input, or keep the bad news from you altogether. We hear people say, “I was going to tell him but didn’t think it was the right time,” or “I thought the news would have caused more problems than we need right now,” or perhaps more directly, “I wasn’t going to be the bearer of bad news.”
The good news is that research shows that people universally agree on what a sound relationship looks like. This universality provides a powerful and unifying force for relationships. Awareness of this connecting force creates a positive tension to improve our behavior and our relationships. Because we all want to do our best, clarifying a shared understanding of soundest helps us see “actual” conditions with more accuracy. People who see soundest are not only pulled toward changing things to what they should be, but they experience a heightened sense of repulsion with the status quo!
The reason we avoid candor is that we don’t have a framework to explore relationships in rational terms. We also don’t have an objective process that manages emotionally charged discussions. Grid theory of styles provides a rational and objective way to evaluate relationships and close the gap caused by self-deception with candor skills. The methodology accelerates the natural ‘evolutionary’ process of developing candor, but with the advantage of reaching a shared understanding of what behaviors you want to strengthen and those you want to reduce. This is a formula that works for relationships from two people up to a large, multinational organization.
When we learn to manage our relationships, then we create a twofold strength that backs up logical reason with emotional conviction. We all have the ability to develop this twofold strength and manage self-deception, but it’s a latent skill that needs practice.