Everybody wants to know how to build better relationships. Why is something everybody desires so very hard to find, create or maintain? Obviously, the way we communicate plays a huge role in the satisfaction we feel in our relationships. Additionally, there are some fundamental ideas that just plain make a difference in how we relate to each other and the world around us. Here, I’m writing about what I discover as I explore the world of relationship and how I can help myself do relationship better.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Getting Out of the Box! This Book Builds Better Relationships
-- Get it. Read it. Live it. --

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute 

It may seem counter-intuitive that my first post on building better relationships centers on a beautiful and profound little business book. If you are like me, then a book aimed at the business world would likely not show up on your reading list. On the other hand, even if you devour business books for brunch, you might have missed this one.


It’s a thin volume fat with rich and delicious content. I’ve been whole-heartedly recommending Leadership and Self-deception ever since being required to read it in my interpersonal communication course at Utah State University.

I remember one night, lying restless and awake in bed, longing for sleep to rescue me from my own sour and negative thoughts. My feelings were pretty bright that night and I was wrestling with my own negativity. I think I was ahead on points, but in danger of being pinned to the mat of my own grumbling, critical mind when I suddenly remembered one of the main points of this little book, how we tend to make others wrong, to make ourselves right. On the one hand, it was like a slap in the face – I know better; and yet still I fell into old patterns of stinky thinking. On the other, it was more than just remembering something I know, I suddenly FELT myself acting out a role. I observed myself in the act of projecting my sins on somebody else. It was revolutionary and liberating. I reversed my opponent and suddenly I had my negativity squarely pinned and tapping out of the match.

The power and beauty of this book it that it can immediately help you to live differently and better. The changes you cement into your habits of thought, the changes you inculcate into the way you perceive yourself and others will immediately fertilize every relationship you are engaged in. I’m being serious, this is not hyperbole. To mix my metaphors, this is a game changer in the flower garden of your life.

Through this book The Arbinger Institute moves the unhealthy thought patterns that infect relationships into the operational theater of how people live and how people can create a conceptual framework that revolutionizes the art of living. It’s soul deep surgery for how we operate in relationship. They provide a scalpel, as it were, to remove unhealthy habits and to graft in a more successful strategy for relating to ourselves and everyone around us, be they our lover or friend, coworker or boss, parent or child.

            For the authors, the self-deception of the book’s title is defined as the cumulative effect of the attribution errors and other mind mistakes that people commonly make (stuff like projection, or inflating other people’s faults while minimizing our own responsibility, or just being wrong in the causes we assign for things that happen), which can be summarized as the need to be right. This leads to various forms of self-deception; or what The Arbinger Institute calls being “in the box.” 

         The box is a distortion we impose on our emotional reality. Self-deception puts you in the box because self-deception is a form of betrayal.  In this case, betrayal refers to any moment where we make the choice to ignore doing something we think we ought to. If we think we should and don’t, we tend to feel guilty. No one likes to feel guilty and therein lies the key to putting ourselves in the box.

They describe the process like this:
  • When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.
  • When I see a self-justifying world, my view of reality becomes distorted.
  • So – when I betray myself, I enter the box.
  • Over time, certain boxes become characteristic of me, and I carry them with me
  • By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box

Like Einstein’s famous quote about the futility of trying to change a problem from within a problem, The Arbinger Institute suggests that affecting positive change from within the box is problematic, difficult if not impossible. They go on to suggest ways that we can get out of the boxes in our lives that create this difficulty needlessly.

            One clue I was in the box occurred during an argument with a former partner. “You’re not as perfect as you think you are!” she yelled. My public face includes an idea of being a kind, patient, loyal, and understanding person. So, every time I act in a manner that is less than kind, patient, loyal and understanding, I have betrayed myself. That feels bad, so I cleverly find ways, such as projection and other attribution errors, to justify my failing. I shift blame from myself to others. The behaviors that arise from this justification and shift are based in falseness and people can feel falseness, just as my partner did. My behavior put her in the box with me so that we could fight and I could blame it all on her. By subtly and unconsciously provoking her, I could feel hurt and misunderstood. Since she was clearly wrong, I could make myself right.

The magic of this book is that by recognizing that I am in the box, I have an opportunity to get out and by getting out, change my behavior. Changing my behavior changes the way people respond. It’s a powerful paradigm and your relationships will thank you.

            At its most basic, getting out of the box is a two part process. First, we as individuals need to simply realize and admit that we are in the box in the first place. We need to accept self-responsibility for our own attribution errors, filters, self-justifications, and mistakes. In other words, we need to accept our inherent humanity and forgive ourselves for our dark sides. Secondly, we need to relate to people as people, not projections, and give them as much slack as we ourselves desire. I didn’t know about boxes and how they invite unwanted and negative response behavior in others back then. I never got out of the box with that particular partner. I wonder how my relationship might have ended out differently if I would have known this life changing paradigm.

            Leadership and Self-Deception is a modern parable, an extended narrative, which settles in happily with our need to listen to and create stories. Since we both create our world and experience it through the words we think and say, and since we are eternally writing stories for ourselves and taking in the stories of others, this little book offers a profound narrative that is rich with the seeds of a new way of creating and experiencing our world. Why live a horror story or a conflict ridden drama when you can change you story into a fairy tale or a romance novel? The ideas in this book will have a profound effect on both you and all the people in your life that matter. Which ought to be everyone right?

Let’s all shred our boxes like bashing down the Berlin Wall and reunite with all that once separated us from both ourselves and others. Reading Leadership and Self-Deception is a just the sledge hammer we need to pound down the walls of our boxes until they are rubble at our feet. Let’s do it. I’m game if you are.

With Love and Aloha,

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