WAIT – What Am I Telling myself?
During my coaching journey with Co-Active Training Institute, I learnt one of the super helpful acronyms, WAIT, which stands for Why Am I Talking.
It was one of those (next to FAIL – For All I’ve Learnt) that I kept written on a post-it note above my desk when I started my coaching practice. WAIT proved really useful in stopping me from asking yet another powerful question instead of listening and staying longer with, initially awkward, moments of silence.
I recently found another excellent meaning for WAIT in a book, The Empathy Factor, an excellent guide on using NonViolent Communication principles in organizations. In that book, Marie Miyashiro defines WAIT as What Am I Thinking or What Am I Telling myself.
So what’s important about WAITing?
“To observe without evaluation is the highest form of human intelligence.” – J. Krishnamurti
The first step when learning NonViolent Communication is to learn how to observe without judgement.
An observation is something that you saw or heard. You can think of it as primary, basic information. It can be direct quotes or visible past behaviours.
Our brains are hardwired to take raw information and instantly make up a simple story— good or bad, right or wrong, hero or villain. These stories are evaluations, and they are very hard to separate from observations.
Imagine you receive an e-mail from your team member that says:
Hi, I cannot send you the requested report on the given deadline. I am working on two other projects which take priority this week. Kind regards.
What would you feel in a situation like that? What would be the story you told yourself?
Take a moment and try to picture the case – what are your first reactions?
I can think of different feelings you might face connected to multiple narratives.
You can feel anger thinking that he does not respect you. You can feel frustrated if you feel that you always need to do everything by yourself. Perhaps curiosity takes over about the other projects, or even satisfaction and pride if you coached your employee to be more assertive and not take more than he can handle.
The reactions we have do not depend on the event that just occurred – the e-mail says precisely what it says – they instead rely on what we are thinking about this event and how we evaluate it.
We usually judge and consider what we see based on our assumptions and thoughts, based on our experiences and biases. And based on these, we often make rash decisions.
Ladder of inference
With every fact we face, we go through a thinking process that takes us from what we observe to an action or a decision. We tend to add meanings to what we see automatically, without even realizing it.
First proposed by Chris Argyris, the ladder of inference describes how we move from what we see or hear, through a series of mental steps, to a conclusion.
You start the process by selecting a few facts from everything you see or hear and translating them into your terms. Later you create an explanation for yourself of what you witnessed based on your beliefs and experience, and then conclude and act.
So, if you received an e-mail as above, and it was not the first time you got an answer like that, you might figure that the person is lazy and does not respect you, and so you will send a nasty response and potentially create a conflict in your team. Makes sense?
As the decision process happens really quickly in your head, you are usually unaware that you are only selecting some of the available facts. This can cause bad judgements and rash decisions (and all those recalled e-mails) that we can avoid if we took some time to WAIT.
If we get back to our e-mail situation – we read that the deadline cannot be met and that our team member has other projects to deal with.
What Am I Telling myself here? Which is true and which is only in my head? There is nothing about respecting me or not, nothing about being lazy – this was my imagination and my story. Instead, I can read about two other projects on the table – do I know what these are? If not, perhaps worth asking?
After confronting your assumptions, instead of writing nasty e-mails and feeling offended, try a different approach. Might you want to use a phone and ask a few more questions to help you understand the situation and maybe even get your report on time without creating unnecessary conflicts? Who knows…
WAITing in practice
WAITing is another form of responding versus reacting and requires from us deliberation and awareness. It is not always easy but worth practising.
Below some ideas and questions to ask before acting:
- Imagine the e-mail was sent by someone you truly appreciate and respect – would your reaction be the same? If not, what is the story you are telling yourself now?
- Use empathy – put yourself in the other person shoes; what could have been his motives and reasons to act this way?
- What did I ACTUALLY read/observe/hear?
- What else can be going on? Is my version of reality the only possible?
- What data did I select, and what information did I skip to make my decision?
- Did I use words like “always”, “never” in my description of the situation? How true is that, and how much does it influence my decision?
- What Am I Telling myself here? What Am I Thinking?
Get in the habit of noticing and questioning your own assumptions and avoid rash decisions, and recalled e-mails