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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

How to Silence Your Itty Bitty Committee

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A while back, I was coaching an executive who found herself getting emotionally hijacked. Like a lot of executives in large organizations, her job required her to work cross-functionally with lots of different people. That kind of work environment leads to lots of conversations, meetings, e-mail threads, presentations and the like. With all of that information flying around the matrix, there are lots of opportunities to get hijacked if you’re not watching out for it.

For instance, someone doesn’t respond to your email. Or, maybe someone else leaves you off an e-mail thread you should have been on. Maybe they didn’t invite you to a meeting you think you should have been in. Or, you didn’t get the recognition you thought you deserved for a job well done.

Any of those things can trigger that little voice inside your head that tells you that you must not matter that much or your contributions aren’t valued or that this whole thing is just a grind and really unfair to boot. You may be familiar with that voice. I like to call it the itty bitty shitty committee.

That itty bitty committee is what cranks up when you’re triggered by something that annoys you, makes you angry or hurts your feelings. It can run away with your agenda if you let it. As you get more and more focused on what the committee is ranting about, you become less and less focused on the things you’ve done or could do that actually make a difference. Depending on how long you let it rant, you give up a little or a lot of control over creating the outcome you really want.

The pioneering coach Tim Galwey summed up the whole phenomenon years ago in this equation:

P = p – i

Your performance equals your potential minus the interference. In my view, interference comes in two flavors—extrinsic and intrinsic. The extrinsic is all of the stuff out there that sets off your intrinsic interference, otherwise known as your itty bitty shitty committee. The faster you can get the committee to shut up, or, better yet, not start at all, the more your performance is just going to straight up equal your potential.

Easy to say, but hard to do? It’s not really that hard if you follow a few steps. They’re ones that I share with my clients, including the executive that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. I use them myself when I notice my own itty bitty shitty committee cranking up (it happens to all of us). Here are three ways to quiet your internal interference:

Remember that “It’s not me, it’s you.” Based on self-observation and observing others for a lot of years, I’m going to put myself out there and say that around nine out of every 10 times someone is doing or not doing something that sets off your itty bitty shitty committee, they have no intention of doing so. In fact, they’re not even aware of it. So, the next time someone does something that triggers your intrinsic interference, try saying to yourself, “It’s not me, it’s you.” In other words, it’s highly likely you didn’t do anything to prompt the trigger. It’s just that the other person (the “you” in this case) is kind of oblivious to the situation. They’re just preoccupied with their own stuff. It’s got nothing to do with “me” (and by me, I mean you).

Know your triggers. If you get hijacked by your itty bitty committee a lot, spend a week taking notes on the situations that trigger it. If you come up with a good list, you can look for the patterns of the types of extrinsic interference that trigger your intrinsic interference. If you know in advance what those extrinsic triggers are, it’s a lot easier to shut down the itty bitty committee when it starts or to even keep it from cranking up in the first place.

Name it, then change it. In spite of your preparation and best efforts, there will be times when the committee goes on ranting for a while. When you notice that, name it and then change it. By name it, I mean acknowledge to yourself that you’re hearing that internal voice. You might actually say, “There’s my itty bitty shitty committee again.” Once you name it, then change it. Go do something completely different that interrupts your thought pattern and allows you to be more productive. Because, at the end of the day, that’s all the intrinsic interference is—a thought pattern. If you can shift your thoughts to something else, you put yourself in a much better position for your performance to just equal your potential.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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