Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Recognizing Projection, Taking Ownership, and Using "I-Statements"

Often people take their feelings, unconsciously attribute them to someone else, and then treat those feelings as a threat to themselves. This is called "projection." We use projection when we don't want to take responsibility for our own feelings. For example, if I am uncomfortable around Jane, I may tell a friend that I think Jane hates me. It can sometimes be easier to displace our feelings in this way instead of examining difficult truths.

For instance, I might tell you: "You made me angry." I am angry. It is my feeling - but I turned it into something you did that hurt me. Or in a meeting, someone might say to me: "You just don't want anyone else to be the center of attention." instead of saying directly what they are feeling.

When we speak our feelings directly instead of projecting them, it's called "taking ownership" of them. Taking ownership is when I acknowledge what I am feeling instead of making statements about someone else. It is an important skill for members of teams, because it promotes clear communication and trust within the team. And helping team members learn to take ownership is an important skill for a facilitator or coach.

Take the "center of attention" example above. Depending on their feelings, the person could take ownership by saying something like:
  • "I don't feel like I've had enough time to speak, and I'd like to say more."
  • "I don't feel like people took my point seriously."
  • "It seems like you have spoken during much of this meeting - I'd like to hear from some other people."
Notice that all those examples are some form of an "I-statement." As long as we don't frame them like: "I feel like you are a mean person", I-statements are usually a good way to take ownership of our feelings.

It is helpful to be able to recognize projection in yourself. If you find yourself projecting, you can choose to take ownership of your feelings.  For instance, instead of saying "You made me angry", you can take ownership with: "When you said what you did, I got angry." Notice how the simple change in wording takes your statement from an accusation about someone else to a recognition of what I am feeling.

As a facilitator or coach, it can be helpful to be able to recognize when others are projecting, so that you can offer them a chance to change their message. When someone is projecting, you can invite them to take ownership by asking questions aimed at drawing out their feelings. You might ask:
  • I'm not sure I understand. Can you clarify?
  • What are you feeling right now?
  • Can you restate that as an I-statement?
Sometimes, simple redirects may not lead a person to taking ownership. In this case, you may need to try and infer specifically what the projecting person means, and ask them more leading questions to see if you can help them take ownership. For instance, if someone says: "Bob is talking too much", you might ask them something like:
  • "Is there more that you want to add, once Bob finishes his thought?"
  • "Is there someone else you are hoping to hear from as well?"
  • "Do you feel like your views were listened to and understood?"
As in any facilitation or coaching, it is important to balance the needs of the individual against the needs of the team. If a person doesn't readily take ownership, it may be necessary to move on and complete whatever is at hand for the team. Later, if you still feel it is important, you can ask the person offline whether they are willing to explore the conversation that took place.

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