- On December 11, 2014
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?
It all started thousands of years ago with a trickle of water trying to find the path of least resistance. Over time, that trickle of water became the Colorado River and the rock it passed over wore deeper and deeper to become one of the most magnificent natural wonders in the world.
David Rock, in his book Quiet Leadership, uses the image of the Grand Canyon to explain why it is so difficult to make the changes in our lives happen.
Our brain is designed to make things easy for us. It is constantly processing our experiences to try to match it with something we know. The stuff we’ve dealt with before can be addressed with a response we’ve used before.
Then the brain can spend its resources on the harder stuff of processing all the experiences we haven’t known yet.
Think of that colleague who always seems to say something off topic from the rest of the meeting. You roll your eyes in a sign of impatience and dismissal.
And it happens next week. And the week after.
The trickle has started. The neural pathway of negativity towards this colleague is strengthening.
Without a conscious approach to changing the dynamic, our body “defaults” to an auto-pilot response, one you may not even be aware of–A silent sigh. A slumping of shoulders. An impatient inflection in your voice. A swift counter to any statement she makes.
Let’s change the course of the river.
You have committed to the change goal of becoming a better listener. And you are going to start with this colleague you find so annoying.
The first ‘drop of water’ to change direction is being keenly aware of your body’s reaction to this person.
What can you do to counter your ‘natural’–actually, embedded– tendency to clench up and become critical?
Take a deep breath. Flex your fingers. Roll your shoulders. Hold your head high. Look her in the eye.
Then the trickle starts, in this case, with curiosity.
Recognize your default response to dismiss her as inconsequential.
Adjust your approach by becoming curious in what she is saying and, most importantly, why she is saying it.
Try to understand her different perspective.
Explore how it might change the way you have been approaching the issue.
Embedding a change in your life is like redirecting the Colorado River to forge a new Grand Canyon.
It is hard. It is uncomfortable. The water tends to run back to what it’s used to.
Cutting a new path through rock takes time, energy, and focus.