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Watch Your Language? Or Change Your Mind?

Most of us are susceptible to thinking traps. We catastrophize, label, filter, personalize and get emotional without intending to do so. Our thinking traps diminish our effectiveness if left unchecked.

One leader I recently coached acknowledged that he was mired in thinking traps that prevented him from trusting others. He felt certain, though, that his thoughts were private. He had no idea that others were fully aware that he did not trust them. In fact, he'd worked very hard to attempt to mask his mistrust. A 360-degree assessment revealed that absolutely no one was fooled.

What gave him away? It was his language, both verbal and non-verbal, that revealed his thoughts. He hesitated and sucked in his breath just before delegating even the smallest of tasks. He checked in a little too often and asked micro-managing questions. He seemed surprised and skeptical when others succeeded.

In other words, he couldn't hide what he was really thinking. He'd been coached before and performance-reviewed to trust others and delegate more. So he went through the motions without changing his way of thinking.

Once this was called to his attention, he asked for help in appearing to trust people more. I declined to coach him in working toward this goal. A few weeks later he called back, desperate to figure out what his next move should be. He knew that his acting wasn't up to par, his motives weren't pure, and his heart wasn't in it.

He was deeply enmeshed in a thinking trap. He was certain that most people could never be trusted. He was stuck in dichotomous thinking, viewing people in absolute terms.

This all-or-nothing way of looking at the world holds many people back. You will be frozen in place if you can't see beyond absolutes.

The language you use is often the first indicator that you are dealing in absolutes. Listen to yourself and notice how often you choose words like "always," "never" "totally," and superlatives like "best," "worst" and "most." The more frequently you express yourself this way, the greater the likelihood that you are thinking in these terms, too.

People notice. So, like my coaching client, you could simply try to modify your language. Or you could work on escaping from this thinking trap. Push yourself to see "sometimes" and "average" and exceptions. Give others the benefit of the doubt instead of doubting what is unclear.

There are few absolutes in leadership. Stretch yourself to see beyond this kind of thinking and to enjoy the exploration of everything in between the extremes.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more this month about Thinking Traps like thesee, Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog and check out this recent post on LinkedIn Pulse.