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What’s in Your Bubble?

During my presentations, I often speak about the ‘bubbles’ we create in our heads (Imagine, if you will, those thought bubbles floating over a comic character’s head). Like many of you, I am enthralled by what goes on in those very fascinating brains of ours. I use this ‘bubble’ language to further expand upon a component of an amazing tool – the Ladder of Inference – originally developed by Chris Argyris and popularized in the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge, et al.

The ladder of inference basically describes the path we take to get to our behaviors and illustrates how driven we are by mostly unexamined beliefs. Simply stated, we collect a small percentage of the data available to us at any given moment (likely about 10%). We process that data by adding our own meanings (unique to us) and making assumptions based on whatever meaning we’ve added.We then draw our own conclusion and take action. The problem is we hone in on the data that we select and constantly work to prove ourselves right by only selecting additional data that validates our original actions. So even if there is a plethora of available data – the up to 90% we don’t process – we ignore it or screen it out to validate our original assessment.

For instance, in this Presidential election year, think about the ‘bubble’s people have about the political party they are a part of. Or perhaps more interesting, think about the ‘bubble’s’ we form about the opposing political party and everyone who is crazy enough to be a part of it! Very few people can give you data about a particular belief or some specific issue, but they believe it strongly anyway. If you listen closely to the speeches and try to tease out data, you will be hard pressed to find any. Instead you will hear a lot of bubbles and an almost circular logic proving that the bubbles he/she has is true.

Once we start exploring and delving into the various bubbles and their meaning – we can better understand some of the many challenges we are faced with today (i.e. road rage, drivers running red lights, people not demonstrating common courtesies as often, hasty decisions at work about another team or person, etc.).

My suggestion to you is to take some time over the next week to really concentrate on what’s in your own thought bubbles. Make note of what you’re not saying out loud, what you’re focusing on, or even daydreaming about because the unique ways our brains process this data and come to conclusions does not always serve us well. It does, however, set us apart from the animal kingdom and has many advantages. Your thought bubbles (the beliefs you have about yourself, others and the world) are guiding your behaviors and by realizing them, we can begin to make the necessary changes in our lives, in our careers, and with others.

It’s important to remember that these thought bubbles are not always in our own heads- some are on a global scale, some national and some company-wide. They can sneak in unexpectedly and have been with us since a very early age.

  • Last time you met someone and instantly did not like them…You can thank your bubbles.
  • And what about that time you were certain you were about to be fired, but weren’t? Blame it on your bubbles.
  • Have you ever been absolutely, positively sure a job candidate was perfect and then found out after a month of miserable performance that you were wrong? All about the bubbles.
  • Remember high school…particular groups never hung out with each other… bubbles gone wild!
  • Ever gotten frustrated with a driver who pulled in front of you because they were just a jerk? You get it… your bubbles!

Personally, I love watching for bubbles. Once you are aware of them, you will be blown away how often you find yourself with a bubble (almost always) and how often others speak only in their own belief bubbles without any supporting data but absolutely, positively sure they are right. After all, our bubbles are based on our data (about 10%) which is of course the truth – I mean you saw that, right? I am not making this stuff up…

What are some great bubbles you have seen lately? If you have a hard time coming up with some, just read a headline or watch a few minutes of a newscast. You’ll see plenty at work!

I look forward to helping you become more successful and will explore some ways to help you do that in my next blog. Until then, beware of the bubble!

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