“Most people are unaware of the degree to which they’re not trusting and open, of the extent to which their conversations don’t reflect what they actually think and feel.”
— Paraphrased from an interview with Chris Argyris, Harvard Business School Professor
Most of us are adept at hiding our thoughts and feelings when we need to. We’re often so skilled at it that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. A thought can cross our mind – be deemed unwise to share – and get squashed in a split second. It happens outside of our consciousness. We just notice something feels off. Over time, these mini self-censorships take a toll. They drain our energy slowly, but continually.
One way to understand where you might be censoring yourself is to use the Left Hand Column exercise developed by Chris Argyris & Donald Schon (described below). In it, you consider both what you’re saying and not saying in a given conversation. “It’s been eye-opening to pay attention to how many things I don’t bring up,” a client of mine recently commented. “Using the exercise, I’ve noticed how reluctant I am to surface potentially challenging issues with my management team. Interestingly, I’m starting to see patterns in the issues I tend to avoid. And more and more I’m finding ways to get these issues on the table for discussion.”
Left Hand Column Exercise – developed by Chris Argyris & Donald Schon
1. Pick an important conversation you’ve recently had.
2. Draw a line down the center of a sheet of paper.
3. In the right column reconstruct the conversation to the best of your ability – e.g. I said this, then he said this, then I said this etc.
4. In the left column jot down what you were thinking and feeling at the moment that each thing was being said.
5. Review both columns
6. Are there differences between your external dialogue and internal thoughts & feelings?
7. If so, how can you begin to productively raise some of your left hand column thoughts?
Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach • New York, NY • email@example.com • www.clarityconsulting.com