While some excel at rapid response, others tend towards a more considered approach – but we can all do both, says Louise Rodgers

Louise Rodgers crop 2

When we start a coaching programme with a new group of people, my coaching partner and podcast co-host Rachel Birchmore and I often deploy a behavioural analysis tool called C-me.

Unlike some other psychological profiling tools used in the workplace (Myers Briggs comes to mind), C-me focuses on our behaviour rather than on our personality. That’s why Rachel and I like it. We can all change our behaviours, whereas our personality tends to be more fixed.

C-me provides a common language across teams and offers insight to help increase self-awareness. It also promotes more effective communication. But perhaps its biggest value is that it really hammers home the message that we are all different.

In an ideal world this shouldn’t need to be taught, but it’s surprising how many assumptions we all make about people. The biggest of these is that other people are pretty much like us and so, if we treat them all the same, and as we would like to be treated, they will flourish. “Do as you would be done by” is an idiom as old as the Bible, from which it comes. But the exhortation that we should treat people with the same respect and kindness as we like to receive ourselves is just the tip of the iceberg.

Take how we think. In his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman explains how our behaviour is determined by two different systems that reside in all our minds – one of which is automatic (fast) and the other more considered (slow). He describes this as a compelling internal drama, with constant tensions and twists between two main characters, System 1 and System 2. System 1 is impulsive, automatic and intuitive. System 2 favours a more considered and deliberate approach.

We may default to either one or the other, especially under times of extreme pressure, but the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle

In the fast-paced environment of the modern workplace many people, and especially leaders, default to System 1 thinking. The ability to make fast decisions and respond rapidly to change or new stimuli have become qualities associated with good or strong leadership. As a result, leaders may suppress their System 2 thinking, because they see no room or time for it, and may delegate routine or less urgent tasks to others, who may be the System 2 thinkers in the team and then become stuck in the role of the go-to reliable person who pays attention to detail.

People who spend much of their time using the System 2 part of their brain may even find that they are perceived as slow or less competent, even lazy, because they struggle to keep up with their colleagues.

The point of C-me is to help us identify our favoured system and highlight that we are all capable of both fast and slow thinking. We may default to either one or the other, especially under times of extreme pressure, but the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle: where we have developed our self-awareness to the point that we recognise this is what we are doing and can make a choice to do it differently. Not only does this make us a more effective leader or colleague, but it also empowers us as an individual.

There’s a great quote that illustrates this, credited to Victor Frankl – who, among other things, was a psychologist and a Holocaust survivor. He said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the ability to choose our response. In our response is our growth and our freedom.”

Finding that space or sweet spot in ourselves is not always easy and at first it needs to be done intentionally, but when practised it can become more of a habit. It requires us to take a pause: to slow things down.

If you struggle not to react reflexively, you can try several techniques to tame your inner System 1. First, consider the person you would like to be. If you wish to be a more patient person, build up an image of an ideal version of yourself perhaps by thinking of how a past, more patient, role model might behave, and invoke it the next time you are tempted to react with frustration or anger to a difficult situation.

You can also think about where this behaviour may have come from. Were your parents, or an earlier employer, super-critical of you, leaving you to believe that you and others will always fall short of expectations? Do you want to be like them, or to be someone different?

Finally, observe the impact of your behaviour on others. Was it positive or negative? Did you achieve the desired outcome and, if so, what was the cost of this for the relationship?

Learning to take a more compassionate approach to ourselves will teach us to take a more compassionate approach to others, perhaps by recognising who is operating mostly from System 2 – whether by choice or because that is the role they have been assigned – and providing opportunities for them to exercise their more impulsive, creative side.