Sweeping Generalizations vs. Accurate Thinking

March 1, 2012 by     Leave a Comment

“That plan was a disaster.”
“Nothing is working.”
“Nobody wants to spend money on that.”
“Everybody wants something from me.”
“Nobody appreciates me.”
“I have to do everything.”
“He’s a hot mess.”

Sound familiar?

Sweeping generalizations are killing you- and your business!

You’re not alone. I used to be the queen of them. I first became aware them and my fondness for them when I worked in my corporate engineering job. A lovely coach pointed out that it wasn’t actually true that “nobody comes to meetings,” or “the project is a total disaster.” I resisted this idea, because I was certain that, in fact, the project was a total disaster.

But I had to learn accurate thinking (and languaging!)

The truth was that about 20% of the team would miss team meetings. It was accurate that the project was 3 weeks behind schedule and we had not yet found a solution to our technical challenge. “Total disaster” was a judgment.

There are a few things to know about sweeping generalizations:
  1. They hurt. Calling a project a total disaster does not make the team members on the project feel good.
  2. They are generally negative in nature. We rarely say “That project is totally incredible,” without somehow qualifying the parts that didn’t work. We frequently lump it all in to a “bad” point of view.
  3. They cause you to miss the nuggets of good. And sometimes the nuggets are not small. Like 80% of the team showing up to meetings. Or a project that is projected to earn multiple billions of dollars in revenue once the technical challenge is solved. You get the picture.
  4. They are steeped in judgment and therefore resonate at a low energy state. Judgment is low energy. Always. It attracts more low energy. You quickly become surrounded by judgment and miss any opportunity that might have been trying to reach you.
  5. They save time to communicate (it is so much quicker to say “it’s a disaster” than to state all of the facts) but they deplete major energy. They are usually active energy suckers.
  6. They do not allow you to discern accurate feedback and craft effective next steps.
  7. They are enrolling the people around you into an idea about what’s not working, which cements that as truth in their mind.
  8. They are simply not true.

Let’s take a look at few examples:

Can you see the difference in energy in the two columns, with the first steeped in judgment, and the second factual, unemotional, and open to possibility for something else to be true?

Can you see how the second column statements lend themselves to knowing what to do differently to create a different result? Look at the last two examples. The same sweeping generalization could represent very different opportunity areas when we dig in. (A lot of coaching is simply digging in to accurate thinking about what is true.)

Pay attention this week to words like, “nobody,” “everybody,” “always,” “never” and judgments like “he, she, or it is ____.” Every time you hear yourself use language like this, I challenge you to rephrase into accurate thinking, and notice the difference it makes!

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