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Situational Paradigm Shifts – Judgment to Curiosity

Firstly, I hope that you and those who are important to you are keeping safe and well. In this strange time, I have been reminded that I’m a very lucky person with a lot to be grateful for in my life. I have some great people close to me. I’m healthy – well reasonably! I have a great job, although it’s a bit quiet at the moment as you might imagine. And it’s the area of my job that I would like to write about today. In this article “Situational Paradigm Shift – Judgment to Curiosity”, we explore situational paradigm shifts and try to courage practising curiosity over judgement.

Over the last 30 years doing my job has brought me into contact with some truly fabulous people who have had a really positive impact on my life. Some of them you will probably never have heard of, like Colin Hooker. Colin has been my friend, colleague and mentor for my entire career.

Some of the people I have met are more well-known than Colin. For example, I have met Tom Peters on a couple of occasions. Tom is one of the world’s leading management and leadership gurus. I have met the incredible man known as W Mitchell, who I have written about many times. He’s the guy who suffered 65% burns in a motorcycle accident and then lost the use of his legs in a plane crash.


Situational Paradigm Shifts - Judgment to Curiosity

I have also had the privilege of meeting Stephen Covey, the author of the best selling 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I met Mr Covey back in 2003 at a gathering in London. During his talk that night he did a couple of exercises that he mentioned in his book. He also talked about the time he was on a subway train on a quiet Sunday morning. 

Information Processing as a Paradigm for Decision Making

As he was reading the paper, a young man got on with two young children. Covey explained how the young man sat gazing into space as his children ran up and down the carriage upsetting and annoying his fellow travellers. This went on for some minutes and the man did nothing to control his obviously wayward children.

Covey said that after a while, he felt he had to ask the young man to get a hold of his children as they were being a pain to the people on the train. Apparently, the young man broke out of his trance state, apologised profusely and then said something………

“Gee, I’m really sorry. We’ve just come from the hospital where their mother has just died and they don’t know how to deal with it. In truth, nor do I. I’m sorry”

Situational Paradigm and Paradigm Shifting

Covey told us that at that moment he experienced what he called a situational paradigm shift. In case this a term with which you unfamiliar, a paradigm – a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn – is often defined as a framework that has unwritten rules and that directs your actions. Consequently, a situational paradigm shift, like the one experienced by Stephen Covey that morning, occurs when one paradigm loses its influence and another takes over. Hence Covey’s view of the young man and his children did pretty much a 180-degree turnaround.

You may well now recognise a similar situational paradigm shift in your past. I had one recently. My current wife and I were driving in our car; I always find that driving is a good thing to do in a car. As we were moving along we saw a young man step into the road. He was clearly a yobbo. He was dressed like a yobbo. He was doing the kind of thing that a fully paid-up member of the yobbo club would do.

As he stood there in the road, he managed to hold up a line of traffic from getting to where they wanted to go; us included. “Bloody kid,” I said. I was ready to vent my wrath on him. He stood in the middle of the road and held up his hand.

As he did so, his other hand pointed towards the side of the road. He then beckoned someone to cross the road. That, someone, was an old man who was using a walking frame to walk with. This yobbo was stopping the traffic to allow an old man to safely cross the road!

Get the idea? My view of this nice young yobbo changed in an instant. I had experienced a situational paradigm shift; maybe not as dramatic as Mr Covey’s but hey!

Practising curiosity over judgement

OK, I hear you cry “So what?” Well, I have recently made contact with a great person called Steph Tranter. I met Steph on LinkedIn when I saw one of her posts. She is an executive coach and psychologist. With her permission, I would like to share one of her recent posts. No, I’m not being lazy. It’s just that I couldn’t write it any better – so there!

So, with thanks to Steph here are her thoughts about the difficult situation we all find ourselves in right now.


“What a Covidiot? I cannot believe some people!”

“Such appalling and selfish behaviour, it makes me sick!”

Said either of these lately (or something like them)? If so, you’ve likely felt the emotion of disgust. This is a sticky subject. Because it feels compelling to feel disgusted. We love to hear what others feel disgusted about too.

How quickly did you want to look at what I was about to rant about? Yes, disgust is a natural reaction to things we feel may harm us. It does its job to keep us safe. But our disgust is not always warranted, and can unhelpfully influence how we treat others.

We can just as easily be disgusted with ourselves as we can be with others too. Disgust results from judgement. And any form of judgement is tricky to navigate. Being quick to judge what something means, or whether someone’s behaviour is good or bad, can lead to other emotions like anger and fear, therefore disrupting your ability to stay calm and positive.

So when you find yourself judging someone’s behaviour, ask yourself: Do I know what options they had to choose from? Do I have enough information about that person to make that judgement? What else could it mean about that person? Try practising curiosity over judgement, and see how that affects your experience and emotional state.


In case you are wondering why I am using Steph’s post, it’s because I have been judgmental myself; many times actually, certainly more times than I care to admit. And, yes, even recently when I heard about some people who were pinching NHS workers’ identity badges in order to get free stuff. In fact, if I’m honest I called them a lot worse than Covidiots! I put a post on LinkedIn about it and got loads of likes and comments.

So Steph’s post was a timely reminder to me. It was a situational paradigm shift for me. To be honest, I’m still struggling with someone who steals an NHS badge, but at least I’m in a more curious place now. It is a reminder to me, as an NLP practitioner, of one of the key presuppositions of NLP; that all behaviour has positive intent (for the person doing the behaviour). Adopting that as my paradigm opens my mind to a different way of thinking.

Thanks for reading this, take care and stay safe.

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