Two people can look at a piece of art and get different impressions or interpretations. We can do the same with situations. All men learn early never to ask a woman “when is the baby due” because she might not be pregnant.
Appearance and interpretations of appearance is tricky. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you probably say or gesture something to recognize it. It may not be a nice response. However, he was at work when his wife went into labor and he needs to get to the hospital fast. Wouldn’t you do aggressive driving in the same situation? However, we don’t know why. We only know that we were cut off. We add out interpretation which could be right or wrong.
Virginia Satir’s congruence principle highlights that we need to balance self, other, and context. We need to understand all pieces to provide the best interpretation.
I recently worked with someone who drove me nuts. Lori kept “shutting doors” and was hard to work with. When I applied the congruence principle, I looked at when Lori works best and then I noticed it … Lori was not quick on her feet. Her default response was belligerence and shutting doors. She needed time to digest information before responding to it. I started applying this, giving her a heads up about meeting topics and decisions needing to be made. She became much easier to work with. Notice that she didn’t change … I changed my approach of working with her.
As a manager, I cannot just assume why a person’s performance has declined. Rich was a top performer. He always exceeded his marks. Yet, he has slipped the last 2 periods. He must be slacking. Let me give him a push to fix it … WRONG APPROACH. I had a meeting with Rich. I shared that I noticed his performance decline (non-defensively). He shared that he recognized the decline but he was distracted by a tough divorce. I didn’t know. This was a time of support, not push.
The great thing about the congruence approach is it sounds like common sense. Yet, sometimes it’s hard to find something that’s right in front of you. Practice it today to help it become more habit and common sense.