People need to believe; it’s a fundamental element of the human experience. Yet sometimes, our very beliefs can lead us to envision things that aren’t really true. Years ago, I experienced this first hand on a Texas summer night along the banks of Lady Bird lake . . .
Flight of the Bats
On my first business trip to Austin, Texas my client and co-trainer (also a native Michigander) was informed by a friend-of-a-friend: a top Austin attraction is the bats that take flight every night from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge.
This Austin Authority said, “It’s an amazing site; every night at dusk hundreds, maybe even thousands of bats fly out from under the bridge. The sky is black with them.” My client was intrigued and asked me to join him. Even though it was nearly 100 degrees that evening, his enthusiasm persuaded me and we went.
Evidently, many others had been told the same thing because as dusk neared, hundreds of people lined the banks of the lake, waiting expectantly for The Flight of The Bats. We waited for what seemed like hours, but in reality was about 45 minutes. Then, there was a slight movement under the bridge. “There they are!” someone shouted from the crowed.
Immediately, there was a surge of energy from the human mass collected on the grassy banks. People looked skyward, straining to see those first few bats fly out from under the bridge.
A single dark winged creature flew from somewhere near the bridge. To my eyes, it looked like a bird. Other people joined in—“Yes, look—over there! Can’t you see them? There they go!”
What in the world were these people looking at? I squinted, thinking that in the darkening light, I simply couldn’t see the bats.
By now, it was quite dark out. Clearly, people really wanted to see the bats. So much so, that some of them conjured them up out of the dark blue sky. A few people persisted—“Just look over there, right under the bridge—see? There they are.” I wanted to shout, “PEOPLE! THERE. ARE. NO. BATS.”
Out of deference to my client, I stayed quiet.
The bats didn’t fly that night*.
Beliefs Lead to Stories
Our beliefs are part of us. As Chris McGoff, author of The PRIMES says, “Every day, people wake up and put on their beliefs just like they put on their socks.” These convictions are powerful and, when based in reality, they can help guide us and provide useful insights for the choices we make. But, like the imagined bats over the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, sometimes the power of one’s conviction can cause people to see things that aren’t really there.
Beliefs inform our stories, which we then tell ourselves and others. These stories show up everywhere, including at work. For example, “Ever since Sally and I had that major blow up last month, she’s had it in for me. That’s why she sent me the incorrect numbers for the XYZ report yesterday.”
The speaker in this example has taken a factual event (“we had a blow up last month”) and created a belief around it (“she has it in for me”.) The speaker then uses the belief to form a conclusion: “that’s why she sent me incorrect report numbers.”
This person may very well be seeing bats where there are none.
5 Ways to Examine Your Beliefs
- Why is this belief important to me?
- What happens if this belief turns out to be untrue?
- What evidence do I have that my conclusion is true?
- What would happen if I changed my belief? Can I live with that outcome?
- Is there someone I trust who may have also seen the same thing? Can I check in with that person to get a reality check?
Unsettling as it sounds, it may be helpful to check out your beliefs at work, especially when they are related to your boss, team members or colleagues. You may be seeing “negative intent” on another person’s part where there is none. Do the occasional reality-check on the stories you’re telling yourself to keep your workplace interactions productive and positive.
*On the flight home to Michigan, I sat next to an Austinite and told him of my disappointment in not seeing the bats. He chuckled. It seems that the Flight of the Bats, while a very real phenomenon, was not a sure thing each night. Many factors dictate the flight, including mating season, weather, and time of day. If you are interested in learning more, click here for the Austin Attractions – Bats information page.
photo credit: istockphoto.com