There once was a knight of the Round Table who met a beautiful woman — fair of skin with long, raven hair — and took her to court to marry her. Little did the knight know that his bride-to-be was bewitched by a terrible spell, cast upon her by an evil sorcerer. According to the spell, the woman could only remain beautiful for 12 hours a day. For the other half of the day, she transformed into an ugly crone, with greenish skin, yellow boils and hooked claws for fingernails. Interestingly, the spell had some significant flexibility. The woman could stay beautiful by day and turn ugly by night — or she could do the opposite: be fair under the moon and homely under the sun. As one might imagine, this presented the knight with quite a dilemma. Would he prefer to escort his lovely wife around court during the day, enjoying the social scene with a fair damsel on his arm? If so, he would most certainly be bedding the ugliest witch in the realm when night fell. Or instead, would he prefer to enjoy the pleasures of the boudoir with a gorgeous woman at his side, in return suffering the loss of status he’d undoubtedly experience upon escorting a hag in high society?
After much thought, the knight approached his bride and declared, “There is only one solution. I give YOU the choice.” Suddenly, with a crack of lightning and roll of thunder, a blue light descended upon the woman. As golden sparks bounced and shimmered across her skin, the woman exclaimed, “You’ve done it! The spell is broken! By giving me the choice, I am now free to be beautiful both day and night.” And, as the saying go, they lived happily ever after.
Perhaps nothing in the world is as potent as the power of choice. It can topple governments, transform relationships, and occasionally, turn a witch into a princess. In the story above, the woman gains her freedom from enchantment when the knight offers her the ability to choose her own fate. That’s what choice does for people; it liberates them from wherever they are currently stuck. Sadly, choice isn’t always given to us, like magic, at the hand of knights and sorcerers. Nine times out of ten, we have to earn our choices. And inevitably, it starts with increasing our awareness.
Who, for example, hasn’t come across a person in their career who seems to be stuck in a pattern of lethargy, powerlessness and apathy. For folks locked in this mode, the world is a scary, overwhelming place, where the only choice is to survive and to endure. More often than not, “victims” like this are not even aware that they’re victims. They just don’t realize that they have the power to change their lot in life.
Conversely, we all know people who are mired in an equally negative pattern characterized by conflict, anger and apathy. For them, the world is a place of eternal competition, a black and white universe of opponents and adversaries, where everyone is “out to get you”, so you better strike first. Fighters like this are also unaware of the energy state at which they’re stuck. They, too, cannot imagine a different attitude or approach to life. And they, too, have a choice, if only they can somehow see it, somehow get un-stuck.
It seems to me that our job — as trainers and facilitators, as supervisors and managers — is not about “teaching” or “instructing” people, but rather, to remind them, again and again, about their power of choice. Whether encountering a victim or a fighter, we need to guide folks towards an awareness of where they are now, and what they might be doing differently in order to get what they really want. Because we all want the same things at work, really: sufficient training, intriguing work, positive interpersonal relationships, feedback, connectivity, and communication.
So how do we do this? How do we make people aware of their power, their agency in the world? We start by reminding them, again and again, that attitude starts with thoughts, which give rise to feelings, which engender actions. We hold up a mirror to people, suggesting that In order to move from a lower energy state to higher one, they need to begin observing their thoughts and feelings as something apart from themselves, something to study and to learn from. They have to get conscious! And, as our trainees and colleagues become aware of their thoughts and feelings, they can come to realize that it’s possible to replace old thoughts with new ones. People can choose a new way of looking at things. They can choose their actions.
To get started on this path, I offer you this simple script. The next time you’re in front of a group of trainees, ask them:
“Why are you here today?
You could easily have found a way to get out of today’s training, but you didn’t. You CHOSE to come today. So, what do you CHOOSE to get out of this?”