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Me, Myself & My Screen: How to offload belief baggage a pitfall of hybrid working

Updated: Nov 9, 2021



MEET LIZ

Liz is a highly engaged member of her team. She is eager to do a great job, to support her colleagues and be proud of the work she does. Like many of us she has recently increased the number of hours she spends working at home alone, just her and her screen.


Liz is currently presenting remotely to a number of her colleagues, some of whom are in the office, others, like her, are joining from home. She’s nervous. This is an important presentation and she has been working hard to make sure that she represents herself well, and lands her key messages. While presenting she notices the colleagues in the office leaning in and speaking to each other although she can’t hear what they are saying. To her they might as well be whispering, so she carries on. She notices those colleagues joining remotely seem pretty engaged, but aren’t giving too much away. Liz finishes presenting and team members ask a few reasonable questions, then smile and wave (the new normal for signing off a video conference), before ending the call. Liz is left staring at her own refection in the now black, mirror like, screen.

Sound familiar? This is the reality for many of us at the moment. Going from potentially high levels of nervous engagement to being immediately alone. What’s the problem with this you might ask? Surely Liz can now relax, go and grab a cuppa and take a moment to relish in her triumph. Well maybe, but how often is that really the next thing that will happen? Liz is likely to begin to reflect on what she just presented, and this rejection is a lonely one. When working co-located with her colleagues, Liz might walk out of a presentation with others, chatting informally about what they had just heard, or making small talk about the weather perhaps - or the fact that neither colleague has long enough to get to their next meeting without running late. This allows Liz's rejection of the presentation to incorporate social observations or social persuasion. In addition, it allows her previously nervous (even stressed) physical state to benefit from the calming effects of interacting with trusted others. Regardless of the post-meeting conversation, it’s providing Liz with snippets of conscious or subconscious feedback about how her presentation just landed. But alas no, Liz is alone - no small talk, and no opportunity for interruption before the self-talk begins, which means that things start to go downhill. Because like many of us, Liz has a few pesky self-limiting beliefs that love to be reinforced whenever they get the opportunity.


Belief baggage showing up in the new hybrid world

What’s a self-limiting belief you ask? Any belief that is held about oneself, usually built up over time, possibly ‘baggage’ or a hang up from childhood, which holds us back from reaching our full potential, feeding into our larger sense of capability or self-worth. Here are a few you might recognise:

  • I'm too young to be taken seriously

  • I'm not smart enough to do this job

  • I can never make my point CLEAR enough

  • I’m too old to understand the new ideas


But alas no, Liz is alone - no small talk, and no opportunity for social interruption before the self-talk begins, which means that things start to go downhill. Because like the majority of us, Liz has a few pesky self-limiting beliefs that love to be reinforced whenever they get the opportunity.

Self-limiting beliefs are a problem precisely because they are limiting. They aren’t a driver to better yourself, they are a reason to never attempt to do something you could do well. We are not designed to beat mediocrity. While supporting others to develop, I am in a position to witness people becoming more aware of their self-limiting beliefs as we talk, and then support them to begin to overcome them. More recently, this has left me concerned that the influence of self-limiting beliefs seems to be getting ever stronger than usual in isolated working environments… and I’m reminded of just how important social interaction is in helping to shape our view of ourselves and our working lives.


It’s easy to recognise the impact of self-limiting beliefs at an individual level, often touched on and worked through during coaching interventions. However, we often fail to consider the serious business impact if the organisational environment allows self-limiting beliefs to go unchecked - hybrid environments have the potential to do just this.

Let’s say that within your business - which has just started to incorporate a greater level of hybrid working - Liz's experience becomes the norm. There are inevitably fewer naturally occurring opportunities for feedback or informal social engagement; that helps to feed our perception of our performance and how we are contributing. Consequently, there is a potential for self-limiting beliefs, and the resulting reduced ability of your employees, to flourish if not managed... Meaning you may have a high percentage of your team less inclined to make best use of their capabilities; a workforce less likely to air their views; feel confident enough to try new things and essentially not live up the highly valuable potential that you employed them for in the first place. So what can we do about this in a hybrid environment? There are two things to consider: what an individual can do for themselves, and what leaders can do for everyone.


In a hybrid world there are inevitably fewer naturally occurring opportunities for feedback or informal social engagement… to help shape our beliefs about ourselves….

Consequently, there is a potential for self-limiting beliefs, and the resulting reduced ability of your employees, to flourish if not managed...


As individuals, how can we begin to recognise and challenge our self-limiting beliefs?

How can leaders enable healthy self-beliefs in their hybrid working environments?


Self-affirming safety

Enable a psychologically safe environment. During this article, self-limiting beliefs have been considered to be the enemy, something to be feared and avoided. But just like all enemies, there is a reason they attack and for leaders to help their colleagues it is useful to understand why. For self-limiting beliefs, the reason is to protect ourselves from, for example, embarrassment, disappointment, or failure. If we remove this risk, self-limiting beliefs can be much more easily managed and reframed. Therefore, creating a ‘psychologically safe’ environment is critical for minimising such beliefs within your teams. Remember that self-limiting beliefs are baggage, often following people from job to job and triggered even before someone joins the business. Consider the internal and external view of the business, does it suggest a safe place to be yourself? An environment that enables learning? is there evidence that a wide variety of people can be successful?



Social soup

Increase opportunities for feedback or observation and mix them up into a more natural blend of formal and informal social cues. Feedback processes in a hybrid environment might need a face lift. Working with a screen rather than a physical team leaves the likes of Liz open to mis-reading social cues leading her to become desperate, whether she realises or not, for opportunities to pick up subconscious signals from her peers. Reflect on your current working practices as you move into a hybrid working pattern, how is informal feedback enabled? Do your leaders and wider team members understand the psychology of isolated working? And are they emotionally intelligent enough to manage their impact on others?



Cognitive Control - Develop thinking as well as behaviour

When exploring opportunities for development across your organisation, review whether your materials consider the impact of the thinking patterns that might be created in a hybrid environment. Are you enabling people to be self-aware from a thinking perspective as well as a behavioural perspective? With greater exposure to being alone with our thoughts, understanding them and making them work for us is more critical than ever. Consider programmes that look at cognitive development as well as behavioural. The example of Liz is a cautionary anecdote of what might happen for many of us or our teams as we begin to increase hybrid working. However, with the right self-support, and leadership influences in place we can make the most of the hybrid opportunity. Consider the “Liz's” that you are going to have in your teams with hybrid working - do you understand what happens psychologically when the screen goes black and are you ready to support them?


The Opportunity

How to become a PIVOT Leader


At Choose to Grow we bring a fresh, systematic and energising approach to Organisational Development. We are experts in developing resilience in executives, leaders and teams to enable them to continually adapt, optimise and sustain performance in challenging and uncertain times, so they are future proofed using our Lean Learning Solutions.


We believe that organisational effectiveness can only be improved through tackling the ‘hard’ with the ‘soft’. We view your organisation from multiple perspectives – the behavioural, the structural, the cultural and the economic so that we get to the essence of your challenge and deliver bespoke, feasible and sustainable PIVOT Programmes.


Our clients span a variety of industry sectors and include Toyota, Mitsubishi, Olympus Surgical Technologies, Legal & General, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Alliance Homes Group, Pobl Group, SIG & Local Government.









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