“Away From” or “Towards” Thinking

All they talked about was negatives!!

You could put money on “The problem is…” being their response.

Here, red10 ‘s Hazel Howard explain how this is an unhelpful “Away From” mindset that can have more negative consequences than you might think…

It Won’t Work

The organization’s Performance Review process needed an over-haul. As it fell under her remit, Sally was asked to lead the project.

Sally started as she would for any other project; finding out what was currently working well, and what needed to be improved. She gathered the data then started to work with Focus Groups.

Again, all the input was constructive. As a last check, she chose one of the more ‘challenging’ individuals to review it: Sean, a senior Scientist who was a known critic of…well… almost everything.

Sally’s meeting with Sean was more than a challenge – this individual was being, in Sally’s mind, truly obstructive!

Sean went through each section, very clearly telling her – almost with a smug satisfaction – what wasn’t going to work. There was no reason given as to why it wouldn’t work, just that it wouldn’t.

Sally was getting more and more frustrated and tried to offer alternative suggestions that at best were met with a, “…well, I suppose that might work.”

Why was this so hard? Because Sean had an “Away from” mindset.

Why Does Mindset Matter – “Away From” vs “Towards”?

Imagine a parent at home with a child on a hot sunny day, deciding they need to cool the room by opening the back door.

The parent could either say:

A. “Don’t go outside – we just want some cool air coming in”
or
 B. “Let’s stay in here, and enjoy the cool air coming in”

The content is the same, but the effect will be different – A will increase the chances of the child wandering outside. It’s as if the brain doesn’t hear the “Don’t”, it just hears the “Go outside”

  • A is a mindset “Away from” what you don’t want
    If you focus on what you don’t want, you end up getting what you don’t want.
    Not helpful.
  • B is a mindset that is “towards” what you want
    You have more chance then of getting what you want

A typical example of this with adults revolves around exercise mindset:

  • I want to lose weight:
    This is an “Away from” mindset – you tend to put on more, or if you do manage to lose a bit of weight, then as soon as it has gone, you end up putting it on again – because weight is what you are focusing on
  • I want to be fit
    This is a “Towards” mindset. If you start losing your fitness, you’ll focus on gaining it again. And you will then reap the other benefits of it; such as potentially losing weight.

Here’s the underlying psychology: what you focus on, you get.

Back to Sean

A couple of years later, Sally got an unexpected call from Sean, who was furious.

Sally saw what was causing his angst – another department was asking for a representative from his team to join them. Sean was furious as he exclaimed, “they don’t even know our names”…with a few expletives added for good measure.

Sally smiled – she then shared with him the story of her frustration when he reviewed the Performance Review and how difficult she found the process to be. Sally shared how she had heard this other department moaning to her about how ‘negative’ Sean and his group were.

Sean was shocked. He genuinely thought he was helping. He immediately arranged for his whole department to have training as this was news to him.

Words that Change Minds

Shelle Rose Charvet’s excellent book: “Words that Change minds” highlights the different patterns of motivation and how they manifest themselves in Towards and Away from behaviours through language. Click here for an extract.

How about you?

For the issue that is facing you most now, how would a “Towards” mindset help you?

This article is one in the series in what are called “NLP Pre-suppositions”: healthy ways of thinking commended in a type of coaching called Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

2 Responses to “Away From” or “Towards” Thinking

  1. Paul Gisby March 16, 2020 at 12:31 pm #

    I love this idea of reframing how to look at ideas and proposals. Reminds me of an approach we took to a change programme a few years ago.

    We were introducing a range of new ways of working. We knew that if we just presented the new ideas on their own and said, “what do you think?” that we’d get a lot of negatives.

    Instead, we gathered data on the things that people most would like to see change about how they and the systems they used worked. Then ranked them as “The top six things that annoy people about the way we work.”

    Then we ran workshops where we first asked people to discuss the top six complaints. This always led to an animated discussion, with people getting excited about the idea of how good it would be if some of their daily challenges were addressed.

    Then we presented the new ways of working under the banner of these have been developed to help with these problems and here is how each “solution” maps to each problem. Then, crucially we asked the question – do you think these “solutions” might help, and if not, how could they be tuned so that they would help. Also, do you have any other ideas on how to address these problems?

    Because people came to the review process already fired up with the idea that some of the biggest drags on their work might go away, the feedback and the conversations that ensued were much more constructive. At the very least people were more willing to engage with the ideas for change.

  2. Hazel Howard March 16, 2020 at 2:51 pm #

    Hi Paul

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your brilliant example of how you applied ‘Away From’ thinking in your organisation to make changes. As you say, asking what annoys people lets them get it ‘out there’… and by encouraging them to be part of the solution not only shows you are listening to them, but engages them in solution shaping.
    I also find re-framing can often release the tension in conversation dynamics – by moving the conversation on from being stuck in ‘problem focus’ mode we move it to positive outcome mode – without compromising the quality of discussion.
    Really appreciate the time you have taken to give the detailed context and content of how this worked. Thanks again.

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