Jessica Soroky Guest Post #17: What Your Vocabulary Says About Your Mental State

Oftentimes, we give a complex entity a simple label to make it easier to wrap our heads around it. For instance “Agile” is a single, one-syllable label for a methodology that is so deceptively simple, it has caused immense market confusion.

Leadership and responsibility are two more small labels used to sum up such complex bodies of knowledge that after decades of study, even the masters are still learning more about them.

Personal leadership and responsibility are truly a journey over a lifetime, not a single destination that we can one day say to have mastered.

Over the past few months, my attention has been focused on my intention and desire to eliminate the default behavior of evaluation.

My favorite “flavor” has always been shame, looking internally and trying to measure up to a stick only I was holding.

Just like the labels we place on big concepts, we use our vocabulary to hide or distract from others — and ourselves — when we may not fully understand something.

I was recently made aware of a new speech pattern I have adopted when I don’t understand something in my attempt to convince myself I was no longer self-evaluating.

When I began my new job, I took “good and bad” and “right and wrong” out of my vocabulary but quickly realized that I had only reconditioned my lips, not my brain.

I still thought very subjectively – I just knew now how to edit it before it came out of my mouth.

And I didn’t even realize I was doing this until I was talking with my mentor about the new job and that company’s environment. I made a comment that the way they did things was “weird.”

He replied with something he had said many times before, but I had never been ready to understand its meaning. “When something feels weird or wrong to you, pause and think. It isn’t actually weird; it is just different. There must be something you don’t know or understand.”

Another “Well, s**t” moment.

Stating that something was weird, wrong, or stupid was the way my evaluations sounded. I could hear it now.

It’s been almost two weeks since this happened, and I feel like all I’ve heard come out of my mouth is “That’s weird” or “They do this really goofy.”

It’s similar to when you buy a new car: after I bought a new car, I saw Honda Civics everywhere all of a sudden. The number of Civics didn’t actually increase, but the wall that was blocking them from view was crumbled by awareness.

Listening to myself was starting to drive me insane. I began having internal conversations with myself when I would observe a situation.

For instance, I observed a story card estimation session for the team I would be taking over in the coming weeks. They began to estimate, and the first thing I heard them talk about was the conversion of story points to hours; one point equaling 8 hours of work.

I instantly got a irritated and began talking to myself. “That’s not right, points don’t equal hours.” It is not wrong, it’s just different. I did it again. Remember, if it feels wrong ,I must not know something.

I kept watching, listening, and biting my tongue as I resisted the urge to fix the team. I finally decided to ask a question instead of making a declarative statement. “Do you guys practice relative estimation?”

A few laughs escaped from the team before they said no, they had never been taught how to. Okay, so they don’t know relative estimation. Still seems weird. No, not weird and it’s not wrong — just different. There must be more I don’t know.

“Does someone require that story points equal hours for budgeting or cost tracking?”

And then my favorite line in corporate America came out, “I don’t know; it has just always been like that.”

I didn’t want to take the team on a tangent at that moment so I left it at that, later going up the rungs to ask a manager if this requirement was still necessary. There was no hard requirement for it, and with minor resistance I was able to get permission to be the pilot and “try something new.”

I have become aware of what my vocabulary really says about my mental state, and because of that realization I’m not only capable and willing to choose my words differently, I now also understand how I can replicate that behavior in the future. What an awesome high to realize that!

What a powerful year 2014 will be! Happy New Year!

Jessica Soroky, CSM
Only 21 years old, Jessica is already a Certified Scrum Master with two years of practice in agile delivery and team leadership. She is also the youngest participant in The Leadership Gift™ Program and its growing worldwide community of leaders and coaches. After five years of non-profit development through Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids, Jessica continues her leadership journey in state government, not-for-profit, and private sector leadership studies.

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Posted in Leadership on 01/01/2014 08:35 am
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