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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Have you ever made popcorn? One “pop.” Then another. Then another. And then the popping goes crazy. Problems proliferate in the same way.
I heard this today and love it. It’s so true for problems – for many things really. How often is it that you’re in a situation where you notice one thing (good or bad) and then all of a sudden that thing is all you see?
The popcorn analogy is perfect.
I was recently with Jennifer, who, during each of our meetings, shares with me how much other people annoy her. At this meeting, she began by complaining about a co-worker named Jessica. She then informed me that it wasn’t just Jessica. Gary could be annoying too. Before too long, Jennifer rattled off the names of seven colleagues who recently created x, y, z challenges for her at work, subsequently causing her to have issues completing a, b, c tasks. You guessed it – annoying.
Another client, Michael, shared with me that his executive leader had difficulties connecting with him. As he continued, it turned out that his executive had a hard time connecting with everyone else on the team as well. By the time Michael stopped talking, the picture painted for me was that the executive had no connection skills with anyone.
One benefit of my role is that I often coach multiple people from the same organization. So, it was interesting to hear Michael’s colleague, Steve, share his perspective of the executive. Without knowing Michael’s concerns, Steve described the complete opposite scenario with me. In his view, the executive had strong connection skills and really fostered a collaborative, team-focused environment. He shared several examples of the positive connections the executive creates within the organization.
Interestingly, I was also able to hear Jessica’s viewpoint on Jennifer. Jessica described Jennifer as extremely distant. She said that this distance created an inability for Jessica to connect with others and that she often seemed annoyed with the rest of the group. Jessica shared that she had heard the same concerns about Jennifer from others on the team.
When I am with my clients, I often start our sessions with open-ended questions, such as “What’s on your mind?” You may recognize it as the prompt Facebook uses for status updates. I know I probably shouldn’t admit that, as a coach, I often take my question cues from everyday situations. This question caught my attention. It’s broad, allowing the user to type whatever they are thinking. It became the opening question to my clients, and it became my golden ticket to starting a conversation. For a brief time, Facebook removed this question but later brought it back – I guess they too realized this truly is a brilliant opening.
I notice that when someone brings a topic to my attention – like the popcorn effect – it starts to be all I notice. On Facebook, I have seen 100’s of comments complaining about the same topic across the world – I have seen 100’s of comments praising the same situation. We are greatly influenced by the behaviors and actions of others – both positively and negatively.
I was surprised to come across a study that dug into the science behind why the Facebook question works so well. What the neuroscience shows is that we are what we give our attention to. If we’re mindful about our focus, we are better off. But if we are distracted or preoccupied, we may pay the price. What you’re holding in your mind will unconsciously influence what you notice and focus on – the popcorn effect.
Therefore, when you’re thinking about buying a new car of a certain color, you suddenly start noticing all the cars on the road of that model and that color. Whatever you’re thinking about can also influence the choices you make, so you might not, in fact, make the optimal choice.
So, what is on your mind? And, how is the popcorn effect – positively or negatively - at play?
As always, names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of working with my clients.
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