Heather has a number of habits that make her a very effective leader. One of them is to never assume that what people say is completely true and to instead watch them closely to see what they do. I asked her why she does this and she replied with, “people act like the truth.” After letting that land and settle, she continued, “they are free to say whatever they want or to say whatever they think others want them to say, but they don’t act with the same intention. Their actions are going to be a reflection of what they believe is true about the world and they represent their best attempts to get what they want based on what they believe is true. If you want to know what people think listen to their works, if you want to know that they believe watch their actions.”
I have found this very interest. I tend to be someone who thinks out loud so what I believe at the start of a conversation is often very different from what I believe by the end of it. I also do a lot of thinking when I write; this more closely resembles what Heather was talking about. I have a very tough time writing something that I know is false and often find myself revising a paragraph to correct something that isn’t true, isn’t clear or is obviously misleading. Sentences will disappear only to be replaced with ones that paint a more complete picture of what I believe is fact. And my word choice will regularly include softening words to add distance for the notion that I have presented as true. “Generally”, “traditionally”, “often”, will find themselves in my writing to guard from the possibility that I unintentionally relate a falsehood.
I am capable of doing more traditional types of thinking – the stuff we do in our heads – and I enjoy it. Much of it is of a good quality but I am well aware that it doesn’t track as close to the truth as what I write or what I end up saying towards the end of a conversation. I’m free to think whatever I like and will use this thinking time to go to places that I wouldn’t write out simply because they do not, or not yet, have a firm foundation in reality.
Heather’s observation holds up with me. If I am going to think something that isn’t true it is more likely going to happen when no physical actions are taking place – speaking and writing are both physical actions. And when it comes to communicating what I believe is the truth, that is more likely going to happen when I’m communicating in a way that requires more physical movement.
I have a difficult time acting in a way that doesn’t reflect my view of the world. I suppose it isn’t impossible, it just doesn’t happen often enough for me to remember when it has. This is aligned with Heather’s observations so I’m willing to assume that it is true and consider what it means in practical terms.
Your consciousness can lie, your body can’t.
Given that people are more likely to tell a lie than to act one out, it makes a lot of sense to watch people more. When listening and hearing, it is best to keep in mind that they may be saying what they want to be true vs. what they know to be true.
In social situations, how people act is a reflection of what they believe. If someone acts disrespectfully towards someone else, it’s safe to conclude that they do not have a lot of respect for that person. Someone who knowingly cuts in front of other people in a line does so with the belief that their need to get to the front is greater than the collective need of those they cut off. It does not indicated that this is how they feel all of the time, cutting a line repeatedly would be an indication of that, just that in this moment in time their perceived need is greater.
If someone says they want something to succeed but do not take the necessary steps to move it forward, it is very likely that they may want it to succeed but that they do not believe it can or that they do not believe they have the capability to make it work. Sabotage is a great example of this; be it self sabotage or sabotage of another, it is a reflection of the belief that someone is unworthy of success.
The quality of business partnerships can be revealed by the actions of each partner. When one partner is doing the lions share of the work, they care more. When the other partner aware that they are doing a lot less of the work, it reflects that they believe they have a right to do less. This can indicate that they do not believe it is an equal partnership regardless of what they have said.
The nature of romantic relationships is also very clear when looking at the actions of each party. Like business relationships, the person who does more of the work likely cares a lot more about the relationship than the other. If one of the parties is not pulling their weight, it can indicate that they are not that into the other person, but it can also indicate that they do not believe the relationship will work or that they deserve to be in a good relationship. If they are aware that they are not doing their share, this lack of effort could be an act of sabotage, self or otherwise.
A lot of the point Heather was making focused on identifying the incongruence between words and actions because when they are out of alignment the person is not telling the truth. She wasn’t saying that they are necessarily telling a deliberate lie, just that what they are saying is not true. How could it be true if their actual actions are not the same as their words? Actions are real and have physical consequences in the real world. Words have a much smaller impact, one that is effectively zero when compared to the consequence of physical action. They may intend no harm and actually be trying to shape the future by saying something that they wish was true in an effort to make it true. Their actual intention will only be revealed after they act and any incongruence is revealed.
Heather uses this technique to pin point when and how to coach her staff or other clients. She doesn’t make a value judgment in the moment and instead tries to lend a hand and help them uncovered what they want while pointing out the fact that their internal world view does not allow them to act in a way that will move them in the desired direction. Very often people are unaware that their actions indicate their beliefs and that other people are able to read these beliefs very quickly. When this leaked information is revealed to them, they are nearly powerless to continue to broadcast the inconsistencies. At worst, the people adjust what they say so as to stop speaking falsehoods. The best outcome is that they become aware of the incompatibility between their wants and their world view and take strong steps to adjust their world view to snap it into alignment with what they want to have happen. Usually though, it is something in the middle with smaller action steps aimed at getting them to act in a way that is in-congruent with their limiting beliefs. Over time, this changes their belief because actions in the real world are evidence or proof of how the real world is. This cannot be ignored for very long and after a few of them, the transition occurs and there is a match between their words and actions, indicating progress.
This is why faking it until we make it is so effective at challenging beliefs, changing our emotional state, and changing our world view. Physical actions are based on what we know or believe to be true. It follows then that someone who not very social but acts in the way of a social person would provide the evidence they are in fact social. Someone who is not active but chooses to work-out intensely 3 times a week is in fact active. Someone who believes they are not worthy of love but takes the actions that indicate they have self respect and love for themselves will suddenly find themselves attracting the love of others. Someone who claims to be disorganized but sets about keeping their room in order will find their story dissolving to be replaced with statements about their organizational abilities.
The whole thing is very cool and accurate enough to use anywhere in your life. Even if the incongruency is not an indication of a mismatch between their desires and their beliefs, identifying it gives you a head start in where to look and what to consider when trying to make sense of peoples behaviour. I am sure there are other reasons why someone would say one thing and do another but the fact that they do this is important and should be explored. Maybe they are lying and are trying to get away with something; in such cases you are always better off confronting them about it. It may cost you a connection with someone who isn’t being honest with you. This isn’t a bad thing, particularly if you are invested in the outcome given that when we want something, we are very willing to ignore evidence and good judgment to convince ourselves that everything is fine. The only way you will know if there is a good reason to say one thing and do another is to ask the person about it when you notice it. Their answer will reveal a lot about the next steps you and they need to take.