The I am Game

Using selective perception on other people can prevent us from realizing their full potential. It can also have negative impacts on ourselves if we ignore our own data.

Remember our buddy, Fred. Fred used selective perception on Fred. Fred played a labeling game with himself I call "The I am Game". I ams are definitions we use to describe who we are. They are also known as "self-regarding attitudes" and collectively form a person's "self-concept."

Perhaps someone asks me, "Who are you, Tom?" If he was really interested and had the time when he asked the question, my answer could be something like this:

"I am a consultant, a son, a brother, a cousin, a male, a Catholic, a husband, a painter, a guy who plays guitar, a writer, a gardener, a person who likes vacation, and if you had time, I could tell you more about who I am."

This I am Game is not particularly profound. We all play it. However, there are times when we play the game poorly. We can give ourselves fits by limiting our defintions of ourselves. If we use selective perception while we are playing the I am Game, we could find ourselves to be rather undesirable.

Here's an example of how I played the I am Game with myself, worked with my self-regarding attitudes, and applied my self-concept. Around the time I noticed girls my age were getting fascinating bumps here and interesting curves there, I was struggling with the I am Game. On top a gangling physique, sat a head with a crooked nose surrounded by exploding acne and a snaggled-toothed mouth filled with braces. This data wasn't so bad except it was data that was on me. At the tender and pitiful age of 13.5 years, these facts, which greeted me in the mirror each morning, allowed me to infer, "I am unattractive." Not good for a teenager, but a condition which could be handled.

One day Dad came home and announced that he had been transferred. This meant that the family would have to move. After the initial excitement of moving to a new place, I began adding up the advantages and disadvantages for me. A new town to live in...that would be neat. A new interesting. New kids to meet...this could be fun. When I got to new kids, my excitement subsided and a foreboding blanketed my anticipation. New kids also meant a new set of human beings to discover how unattractive I was.

I could have crawled into a hole with this one I am and limiting self-concept, but somehow I found other I ams that kept me from drowning in a single definition. It was as if I had graphed my I ams for comparison purposes and found myself well-equipped for a new situation. On the vertical axis was a measure of worthiness. Across the horizontal axis I placed my self-regarding attitudes. Some of the more important I ams I had to measure included height, sense of humor, musical talent, artistic talent, intelligence, basketball, and attractiveness. Below is how I measured myself on the I am scale.

Beyond the data my mirror reflected, I had other data I could consider that supported my self-regarding attitudes. I was almost 6 feet tall, people laughed when I told jokes and acted silly, I played guitar and sang, I could draw and paint pictures, I made good grades, and I played basketball. Either I could do these thing or I could not. Either I was this way or I was not. These activities also brought people towards me and in my book, that was the definition of attractive.

As you can see, I felt pretty good about how I measured up. However, I could have easily labeled myself as unattractive by focusing on only one I am. I could have crawled off into depression. I am glad I didn't.

Having many quality self-regarding attitudes is vital to a healthy and effective self- concept. The more, the better. They support the somebody a person has got to feel like. He or she who has few supports does not have as many resources to feel like somebody, to enhance and protect his or her sense of self, or satisfy his or her zig zag.

Imagine a beautiful crystal ball sitting on top a stand with only three legs. The crystal ball represents Sally's self or zig zag. The three legs of the stand are Sally's self- concept, the data and inferences she has about herself, each representing a different and distinct I am. One I am is daughter. The second is wife. The third is mother.

Her parents die and Sally feels lonely and sad. She throws herself into taking care of her husband and the kids. Then, one by one, the kids move out and don't come home regularly. She feels lost and scared. She focuses all of her attention on her husband. Her husband begins to feel smothered and doesn't return the attention Sally needs. He divorces her because she is not the woman he married. Sally has lost all the supports, self-regarding attitudes, and I ams she used to support her self. She feels like less than somebody. The crystal ball will fall and break, if it hadn't already.

However, consider our Sally with other I ams supporting her crystal ball. Besides daughter, wife, and mother, she can say, "I am a nurse...a volunteer...a politically active person...a member of the professional women's club...a traveler...a gardener... and a couple more." Chances are that her crystal ball will be well supported and won't topple as easily. The hospital might shut down, but she'll have other I ams to turn to until she can recover. Her kids might leave, but she'll have more time to travel, even to visit them. You get the point.

We can use DIP to find ourselves deficient, but we can also use it to shore up our self-concept.

Lawyer's Ploy

Lawyer's are famous for asking difficult and complex questions of witnesses and demanding that the witnesses answer yes or no. The old joke "Are you sorry that you killed your mother?" is one of the best examples of the Lawyer's Ploy. The Lawyer's Ploy is a questioning technique that asks about information on the inference level and requires an answer which is either/or in nature. Since inferences are not either / or and not fact, but someone's truth, questions which lead to either / or answers are inappropriate. Lawyers are not the sole perpetrators of this questioning approach.

Quickly answer the following four questions yes or no.

Are you a good person? Yes or no. Are you a handsome person? Yes or no. Are you and honest person? Yes or no. Are you a success? Yes or no.

How did you do? Did you answer the questions accurately? Do you have evidence that supports your answers? What data can you show me or others that proves the accuracy of your answers? If you answered yes to all these questions, allow me to burst your bubble.

Do good people walk past homeless people on the street avoiding their gaze and ignoring their requests for assistance? Do good people gossip and talk behind others' backs? Do good people prejudge others before gathering more information? Do good people throw out perfectly good food when people are starving in the world? Do good people curse? Do good people lose their patience and get angry? Do you do any of these things? If you do, how can you say you are a good person?

As for being a handsome person, do handsome people have blemishes on their bodies? Do handsome people weigh a little more than they should? Do handsome people ignore the need to exercise? Do handsome people have yellow, crooked teeth with cavities? Do handsome people have wrinkles? Do handsome people wear sloppy clothes? Do handsome people not comb their hair at times? Do you do any of these things, and if you do how can you call yourself a handsome person?

If you answered yes about being a good and handsome person, you certainly aren't an honest person? Do honest people tell little white lies to get out of doing something? Do you tell people they look good when you really don't think so? Do you speak less than the truth to spare someone's feelings? Do you do any of these things? If you do, you lied about saying yes. How can you be trusted?

Finally, based on what I know about you now, I know you lied about being a success.

See how the Lawyer's Ploy can put you in a bind? If someone asks you a question on the inference level and expects a yes or no answer, avoid the temptation to answer. You might win, but it is just as likely you will lose.

Hand in the Cookie Jar

One of the most famous Timmons' stories demonstrates a number of the issues we've reviewed so far. Dr. T would say,

"For a moment I am turning you all into daddies. I promise to turn the women back at the end of this demonstration.

You're coming home from work at the end of the day. As you're walking up the driveway, you pass and glance into the kitchen window. Up on the counter next to the sink you see your four year old son on his knees reaching into the cookie jar where you know Mama keeps her 'go crazy money.' His grubby little peanut-butter-covered hand emerges from the jar with a five dollar bill and sticks it into his pocket.

Now I am going to give you a lesson in how to be a bad daddy.

You slip in the back door and walk into the kitchen. Your little monster has just crawled off the counter and is pushing the stool back under the breakfast table. You put your briefcase down, raise your hands to your hips, arch your eyebrows, and say, 'Son, did you take money out of Mama's cookie jar?'

Do you hear the underlying question: 'Are you a thief or a liar?' Your question is a "hook 'em horns' question. If he says he didn't take Mama's money, he is a liar. Afterall, you saw him take it with your own eyes and now he has denied it. Data doesn't get more solid than that. On the other hand, if he says he did take the money, he is a thief. Right? Based on the data, he's going to be one or the other.

This bad daddy approach put the little guy ina horrible position. He can't answer the question without losing. He's in a no win situation. If he turns one way, he gets it, and if he turns the other, he get nailed too. If he allows himself to be labeled a liar, what will be the natural prophecy? Well liars lie, don't they. That's what we can expect from the little so and so. If he allows himself to be labeled a thief, the inference will lead us to the prophecy that in the same or similar situations, this kid will thieve again. Liars lie. Teachers teach. And sump pumps pump sump.

Now for a lesson in being a good daddy. The situation is exactly the same, but this time instead of asking Junior a lawyer's ploy sort of question, you put the data you have up on the table and let him help you understand what he was up to. You say something like, 'I was passing the kitchen window when I looked in and saw you on the counter reaching into Mama's cookie jar. I noticed you took five dollars out and put it in your pocket. I don't want to jump to any conclusions, so could you help me understand what was going on? You probably had a pretty good reason for doing this and I am curious.'

In this instance you haven't jumped to a conclusion, formulated any inferences, or judged the situation and Junior to be one way or another. You have laid out the data you have and have given him the opportunity to offer you data that you didn't have. What you find out is that his mom's in the other room with all of her coupons and bills spread out over her lap. She saw the newspaper boy pass on the other side of the street and remembered he was coming this afternoon to collect for the paper. So that she wouldn't have to interupt her work, she asked Junior to get five dollars out of her cookie jar to give to the paperboy. Furthermore, you realize it is the time of day when his favorite TV show comes on.

So, instead of a liar or a thief, you might infer that your little son is a darn sight more mature than you would be if you had to miss the first part of your favorite show. He is giving up the Muppets to help his mom out."

I personally love this story. I think about it almost every time I catch myself forming inferences before I gather more data. In many ways it is burdensome to realize that most of what we hear are inferences. It is hard to know with any certainty if we have all the data we need to come up with the most effective judgements, evaluations, opinions, and truths about ourselves, others, and the world at-large.

Self- Fulfilling Prophecies

Self-fulfilling prophecies fall into the realm of the DIP process. They are prophecies we act upon and by our actions, make come true.

Fred, the shoe salesperson, analyzed the data he had about his shoe selling from every which angle. He figured he was selling 2 less units per month than he needed to in order to sell 240 shoes for the year. He calculated the data every which way in his head to see if the data could be disputed: "Let me see, 171 units divided by 9.5 months equals 18 units per month. So then, 18 units per month times 12 equals 216. this means, 240 minus 216 equals 24 units. Maybe if I did it this way...240 units minus 171 equals 69 units. Therefore, 69 units divided by 2.5 months equals 27.6 units per month. And 27.6 units per month minus 18 units equals 9.6 units per month short of what would be necessary to make 240 units of sales."

He ran the data through his perceptual filters and arrived at the inference and prophecy, "Fred is a failure. And what do failures do, they fail. And since I'm a failure, I will fail." But Fred didn't stop here. He acted upon his inference and prophecy. He decided that he had better look for a job while he sold shoes the rest of the year. Fred turned from being full-time salesperson to part-time salesperson and part-time job hunter. Instead of digging a little deeper to motivate himself, pushing a little harder to find prospects, and working a little smarter to reach his quota, Fred acted upon his prophecy. He didn't even take the time to check with the supervisor to see how valid and accurate his inference was. So he gets stuck with his prophecy. He'll probably make it come true too. This is Fred's self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our prophecies are not reality, but often we act as if they are. As predictions of future events based on our inferences, they are only attempts to deal with our anxiety about what will happen to us next. The more certain we feel about our prophecies, the more likely we are to act in ways that will tend to make them come true. But since prophecies are not reality, our actions are in effect responses to illusions, things that aren't there.

Self-fulfilling prophecies have a bright side and a dark side. If our prophecies about ourselves and others encourage us to perform in ways that move us to positive results, they are great. But when we respond to prophecies about ourselves and others which are tinted negatively, we can expect negative effects.

All of the other issues regarding DIP operate in self-fulfilling prophecies. Labeling, self-regarding attitudes, the trouble with is, and selective perception impact the prophecy level. Generally, if any of these issues has a negative valence in a DIP situation, we run the risk of acting upon negative prophecies.

Sometimes we are guilty of using self-fulfilling prophecies on others. I once had a manager who believed that his employees were uncooperative, selfish, and had no concern for the welfare of the office. He selected data that supported this view and rejected any evidence to the contrary. Anytime a project had to be done, he would call us together and read us the riot act. He would say, "I expect I'll eventually have to do this project myself, but I will give you one more opportunity to prove me wrong." We all felt really good after these meetings.

From our point of view, we worked very well together. Our problem had to do with the manager not giving us enough autonomy to make our own decisions. He wanted to be informed of every minute detail at each stage of the project. This drove us to spending more time writing reports about the project than doing the project. We frequently became frustrated and argued about what we were supposed to do. This sapped our energies and ate up our time. In the end, we rarely completed a project, and when we did, our manager would change it because it didn't meet his specifications.

I think about this experience often. In the beginning, I found it easy to point the finger at the manager and decide that he had used a self-fulfilling prophecy on us. As time passed, I realized we, the employees, were probably acting on our prophecies about him. To me, it really doesn't matter who was wrong. We were obviously not effective as a work team and what was wrong was the self-fulfilling prophecies with which we dealt.

The above example demonstrates the negative results of self-fulfilling prophecies. We can use this process quite successfully to produce positive results as well. What if I didn't criticize you for doing something a certain way, only becasue it wasn't my way? What if I genuinely wanted you to succeed and encouraged you, offered you some resources I didn't need, let you know that I'd be there to remove any obstacles which got in your way, or simply told you I thought you were going in the right direction? Chances are pretty good you'd do a better job than if I were to predict your failure and act as if you were a failure.

Next Page: How We Operate-Part 4 Data-Inference-Prophecy Continued