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  • Writer's pictureRicki Braswell

Life Through Filters

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"We can't control the filter that others choose when they look at us." -- Rachel Wolchin

Do you remember the game, "Telephone"? If not, here is the quick rundown: someone whispers a sentence or a phrase to you and you have to whisper it to another person, who then whispers it to another person and on, and on, until the last person in the group receives the message. That person tells the rest of the group what she/he heard. The hilarity of the game is that what the last person shares is nearly unrecognizable when compared with what the first person said.

But wait...have you ever given any thought to why?

Part of it has to do with our internal filters which use of our experiences, knowledge and opinions to create assumptions and color how and what we see, what we hear, what we say and how we process. Our filters help to create our beliefs and expectations.

Research supports that we tend to notice exactly what we expect in other people's actions, behaviors and situations. Not only do our expectations affect how we perceive things but they can actually influence the behavior of the people around us. Our filters cause us to make assumptions which can lead others to act / react in a manner which we predicted.

An example is how we approach having "difficult conversations". Often we will rehearse the conversation in our minds. We think about what we will say to introduce the topic, where we should say it, adjusting the words we might use and where we might stand or sit, all in the hope that we get it exactly right and avoid the difficult part. We imagine what the other person will say, how they will look, react and behave. And then we plan how we will respond to their response. We go over and over the conversation in our mind trying to prepare for it and avoid the outcome we least desire.

By the time we get to the actual conversation we are anticipating the other person's defensiveness and we are prepared. We probably don't recognize that we are combative when we approach the person and watchful for signs of defensiveness, which of course, we spot immediately.

This is an example of how one of our filters for beliefs and expectations has caused us to pull behavior from another person consistent with what we anticipated and expected.

Filters can be very deeply rooted. I can recall, as a very young child, my mother and grandmother guiding me across the street when we saw a man walking toward us on the sidewalk. I cannot recall if the man was menacing but I can think of numerous occasions as an adult walking alone when I have crossed the street because a man in the distance was approaching. And once a few years ago I noticed a man walking and before I could change my direction he stepped into the street and crossed to the other side. I recall thinking, "thank you," and immediately feeling bad. Why should he have to cross the street? Did I make him feel threatened? Or did I make him feel menacing?

You may consider crossing the street a good safety practice for woman and I won't debate you, but what I realized that day was that I don't actually believe that every man is a threat but my filter caused me to behave like they are.

When we recognize and acknowledge that our filters are engaged and we work to disengage them, we see beyond the limitations of our expectations and we change our habits and behaviors. This was a valuable skill that I learned during my training to become a professional coach. We were taught to identify and recognize our filters and how they might impact how we partner with our clients. Our filters can cause us to live life like the game "Telephone". Only hearing what we assume the other person is telling us.

So what can you do to keep your filters from limiting you? The first step is to discover what filters you have in place. You can begin by identifying the behaviors that annoy, frustrate, intimidate or scare you, and then dig a little bit into why they evoke those feelings. What assumptions are you making about the person who exhibits that/those behaviors? What language do you assign to the behavior? When did you first learn that? How do you typically respond?

I've learned quite a bit about disengaging my filters so that I can step into conversations with more curiosity, enabling me to hear more, see more and appreciate more.

Let's Talk Accountability

One of the most common conversations I have with leaders is about how to have a conversation focused on accountability with a team member. This topic comes up so often that I thought I'd share some guidance with you.

Regardless of the circumstances, it is your approach and your mindset that will guide the outcome. So before you step into any meeting make sure you are clear with yourself about your intentions for the meeting. In the case of a conversation focused on accountability, during the meeting your intention should be to:

  1. share your observations

  2. confirm the agreement

  3. listen to what happened

  4. help the employee reset and recommit

Here is how I recommend you begin the conversation:

"I noticed (insert behavior / action). We agreed that (deliverable) would be completed by (date). What happened?"

Listen. Don't interrupt. Don't interject. Just listen with the intention of understanding the facts and what the employee experienced. Work to park any feelings of judgement.

When the employee has finished with the explanation, this is how I would advise following up:

"Thank you for sharing what happened. What is your plan so that you can (insert behavior / action) and agree to (deliverable) by (date)?"

Again, listen without interrupting or interjecting. It is important that the employee be given the opportunity and the responsibility of creating a plan for how to complete the objective. If you take that on then you are assuming the accountability which negates the purpose of the conversation.

As with all leadership growth, this takes practice, but the results are worth the effort.

Useful Filters - Like for Coffee

Success coaching provides a neutral place for you to explore what filters you use and discover which ones serve you and which ones may be standing in the way of your desired level of success.

Curious to find out more? Schedule a virtual coffee and let's chat. This 45 minute mini-session is complimentary and gives you a taste of how coaching can support you. If you want to get beyond your current level of success, grab a mug and schedule some time to explore.

If you are enjoying Beyond A Pep Talk and know others who would as well, please share! Also, I'd love to hear what you want to learn more about so that I can create content just for you. Email me at with your thoughts or just to share a chuckle.

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