All of us develop over our lifetime certain beliefs and values which in time become assumptions as to the way things should be. The powerful influencers on these beliefs and values include our Parents, siblings and wider family, our culture, religion, ethnicity, etc. These core beliefs and values that each of us hold so dearly, oftentimes unquestioned influence our thinking and behaviours. For example, if one of the beliefs that we hold is that ‘we must never give up’ then this is the expectation that we place upon ourselves and so too are we likely to expect it from others. However, when others behave is a different way, for example giving up even when it makes perfect sense to do so, we become frustrated and angry.
It is not only the assumptions of individuals but also of workplace groups that can greatly influence outcomes. Schein (2010) for example, pointed to the fact that cognitive structures such as concepts, beliefs, attitudes, values and assumptions all assist the individual in ‘organising environmental stimuli in order to make sense of them and subsequently provide a sense of predictability and meaning’. These powerful shared sets of beliefs and assumptions in a workplace can serve employees and organisations well but so too can they at times create barriers to goal attainment. Let us look for a moment at an example for illustrative purposes. Where a group assumes that taking risk is threatening, then innovative practices are unlikely to flourish. Another example is where within the workplace if an employee is of the view that the organisations values and objectives should be followed at all costs, they will likely become anxious if these come to be questioned by others. This can in turn lead to conflict.
As a professional coach and consultant, it is my role not to ensure that clients think like me but rather that I support them in thinking more effectively for themselves. Long term negative beliefs, oftentimes formed in childhood experiences have also been referred to as schema beliefs and are used to organise the views of the self and environment. In using cognitive behavioural coaching techniques where appropriate, the client becomes aware of these core beliefs about the self, the external environment and the future that can lead to maladaptive perceptions of what are in reality neutral events.
For employees who feel stressed, their minds might conjure up memories from their past and then create scenarios of what may happen in the future. This may occur particularly if they can’t explain what is taking place in the present moment. In essence, the person’s brain is setting off alarm signals triggered not only by the current situation but by past threats and future worries. As a result, the person interprets signals as reinforcing what they wish to believe e.g. I am going to lose my job, even if the actual real evidence contradicts this. In such situations individuals are capable of deceiving themselves as they are so invested emotionally in preserving their existing cognitive model. This deception can at times lead to automatic thinking which while useful at times for filtering out a wealth of information, can often result in poor reflection.
The good news is that a skilled professional coach can support those clients in identifying when their thinking is unhelpful, to question those personal assumptions have not been assessed in so long and in doing so, identify more beneficial ways of thinking which will ultimately lead to positive behavioural changes.
Schein, E. (2011) ‘Organisational Culture and Leadership’, San Francisco, Jossey Bass.