Words Versus Actions

Nikki Bartlett: 23rd December 2016

Thought Leadership No comments yet...

Words Versus Actions

You know sometimes something just keep popping up for you. For me recently this has been the disparity between words and actions.  I guess the thing that has been bugging me most about this, is the symbolism it has around what we say is important and then what we actually do.  I get that there are many things in our life that we have to do, the challenge is whether we allow these to have more of our time, than the things that we say are important.  I was talking with a couple of my colleagues about this recently.  In our line of work, we see and hear often, the challenge that this dichotomy presents.

At a networking event recently a speaker was taking questions from the floor, he was being challenged on making something happen that he was passionate about, and he was frustrated because he was waiting on someone else to do something – so his words, waiting on someone else’s action.

I was working recently with a group of leaders, who all collectively agreed in the room to make an action happen, and yet when I checked in with the person responsible for getting this started, there was an expression of frustration that whilst everyone was happy to verbally commit to the action, getting the others to do the things they said they would was proving challenging.

I’m not sitting here in judgement, but in curiosity.  If I could find the magic button that transforms the disparity between words and actions, when needed, I’d be laughing.  The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that the answer sits within the practice of committing our time. Fred Koffman has openly said “most of what I teach is common sense but not common practice”.

So, what other reasons might exist that get in the way of truly doing that which is most important, so that your actions speak louder than your words?

Action vs Activity

It’s worth considering the difference between generating a lot of activity and focusing in on a specific action. There is the old adage of big rocks, small rocks – I’m assuming most of you know this, but it’s where we fill our day with activity (the small rocks), like answering emails, and all the small things that we can get done quickly, because this make us feel like we are getting stuff done, but in reality, those are not the most important things. The most important things are the big rocks, and often the big rocks require more self-discipline, more commitment of our time to take action and focus on just that one thing.

Conflicting Values

The brilliance of being human is that we can arrange future action. What happens though when our future actions are tripped up by conflicting values. Take for example personal vs. professional values.  How often do people spend more time at work when they really want to be home with their family. So a future action might be “I am going to spend more time with my family”.  And yet we might have a professional value of “delivering excellence”.  This could show up as working above and beyond our role requirement, meaning staying later, or working in the evening at home, which in turn means we give more time to work and less to our family. Working less conflicts with our “delivering excellence” value, so it’s hard for us to do. Yet if you were to ask someone what is more important their family or their job – most people will without fail say that their family is more important.  Even though their words might not be supported by their actions.   How much time do you spend reflecting and aligning your values?  Is there a way that delivering excellence can be re-framed to support your personal values too?

Cognitive Thought vs Emotional Connection

Similar to values but not quite, maybe there is a difference in thinking something and actually feeling it.   We know that we should go home on time, we know that it would mean we get to spend more time with our family but whilst at work we are emotionally disconnected from what that feels like because, at that moment of time, the thing we feel most strongly about is the report we need to finish, because it is “right now” it has more of an emotional hold over us.

You know that you should get that big rock completed first, and you know you will be pleased with yourself when it’s completed, but you think it’s going to be hard and you’re not quite in the right place, so it’s easier to do something immediate (get some of those emails done) because that gives an instant feeling of progress.  Even though doing the harder thing will create a strong feeling later, you are not feeling those feeling right now.

Discuss/Debate vs Decide/Do

To make things happen we need to act and not just talk about taking action.  Some people find themselves stuck in a loop of discuss and debate and find it hard to move to decide and do. This can be driven by the values, it can be driven by fear of the unknown, and of course at times it can be right to be cautious.  It is noticing when this becomes a repeating pattern of behaviour that causes a lack of action around those things that we repeatedly talk about doing, that we need to recognise it as a blocker.

So, what can we do?

Here are three ideas from me on how to do something about this. I would love to hear your thoughts on this too, especially as with the New Year fast approaching, many people will be making a New Year’s resolution. And wouldn’t it be great if we could help each other know how to actually take action and not just don’t end up just talking about it!

  • Idea 1 – Purpose

Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance” spends a considerable amount of time exploring goal hierarchies.   There are low goals, mid-level goals and top level goals, these should all be in service of your purpose. Too many low-level goals (getting those emails done) can mean you lose sight of what’s most important, too many top-level goals and you can get stuck knowing where to start.  Keeping these in balance, and in service of your overall purpose can help make sure that you are taking action when needed. So what is your purpose? Asking yourself why am I doing this, or why do I want this, or what is this in service of, will help you know whether it really is something important.

  • Idea 2 – Reflect

Yes I realise that this almost seems like a contradiction but for me, raising your awareness will help you notice when your words and actions are not aligned.  Sit with it for a while.  Just letting it be, you’ll start to realise whether it really is something that you want to do. If you find yourself consistently reflecting on that lack of action in support of your words, ask yourself what is this really all about? Maybe it’s not important enough, maybe it’s not serving a higher goal, maybe you’re just procrastinating!

  • Idea 3 – Control

Make sure the actions you are committing to verbally are within your control. If you want to make something happen but are reliant on someone else doing it, it will be much harder, not least because you’ll need to convince other people how important their role is in delivering your action.

Food for thought at least – if not for action!

What ideas do you have? In a time when everything seems to be at odds, let’s be active in helping each other. Don’t just read this blog and think about your answers, take action and post them in the comments!


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