Earl R. Smith II. PhD

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One of the most difficult challenges in any mentoring engagement is helping a client come to terms with the implications of behaviors that are blindly habitual or unconsidered. It doesn’t have to be a big issue. Sometimes it is a small thing that is done without thinking. At other times there is an anger or resentment driving the behavior. But the net effect is the same. Self-sabotaging of possibilities.I recently worked through one of these behaviors with a client.The resolution came unexpectedly from a related behavior from somebody else. It was reinforced by her own verbal behavior.  It’s worth describing because both fell into the later category – unconsidered.

This particular behavior involved the way she responded to emails. In her mind, any response was correctly limited to the factual. As a result, she never addressed the person at the beginning of a reply nor did she add a personal comment at the end. Her emails were dry and anti-humanist. The person on the other end could have been a computer.

People who received emails – and particularly responses – from her often found them antiseptic – devoid of human emotion. One person even told her that ‘its like getting a robo-call. I’m just another name on the list.’ We came to work on the behavior because she was feeling increasingly isolated – both socially and professionally. So here are the two behaviors that help us work through it.

The ‘To Hell With You’ Greeting

When we would meet for our sessions, I would generally greet her with “Hey, how are you doing?” Her response was invariably, “how are you doing?” I decided to highlight just how insulting that response was. “I asked first.”

She stopped talking and looked at me. I followed with, “You can’t seem to accept that I asked how you were doing because I really wanted to know. Do you know how insulting your response is? What am I to think? Maybe you think I am not interested in how you are doing and that my asking is just a verbal tic. Or maybe you think that I am not worth responding to when I ask how you are doing. Or maybe you don’t believe that you are worth of my interest in how you are doing. You know, no matter which I choose, it comes down to your telling me I am not worth responding to. So you mimic my concern, making it clear that yours is not a real question.”

“I never thought of it that way,” was her response.

As it happened, I had brought an example of unconsidered behavior from recent experience. One of my contacts had decided to ask for help finding a job. Well, more properly, he decided to ask everyone he knew for help and sent out an email with all of our email addresses exposed in the ‘To’ field. Now, this person was asking for help from people that he had just exposed to spammers, scammers and a whole range of uncivilized individuals., clearly expected to be done favors in return.

I had taken the step of point out the problem to him and his response was self-justifying. “I will send out your email address as I see fit.”

When I showed the email thread to my client, she got the message. It’s not what you intend that matters. It’s what actually results from what you intend. You can redefine or rationalize your behavior all you want but, if the results are self-sabotaging, no recasting or self-justification will change that.

The Human Touch

Once we got past the eureka moment, things became a bit lighter. Now she is doing character-description exercises for everybody she regularly connects with. It’s gotten to be a kind of game with us. She revels in knowing things about the people around her. And her emails are getting to be real collectors items. I recently received one with an attached link to an article on something that I am interested in. Right out of the blue. Unexpected and without any business content. The message was ‘I know something about who you are. Here is evidence that I care about that.’

For her, the journey continues but the road is less bumpy.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II