“Look for strength in people, not weakness; for good, not evil. Most of us find what we search for.”
~Wilbur J. Chapman

I’ve heard it said many times, “You get what you look for.” I’ve offered this to clients (and friends and family). I’ve noticed it in my own life. People tend to meet and match my expectations of them, whether my expectations are good or bad.

When a client tells me of a colleague (or boss) that they simply cannot work with, I challenge them to find something – anything – positive about that colleague or boss. “Find one thing that you respect or one way they add value,” I suggest (rather strongly). Many of my clients grumble when I ask that of them, but many of them also find that the relationship shifts at least a little bit when they take this approach.

Our brains are wired with many biases, and confirmation bias – a tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or perceptions – is something that exists in all of us. We (somehow) notice only the things that support what we already believe to be true of someone. If I think you’re annoying, I will see how annoying you are. If I think you’re amazing, I’ll notice the amazing things you do. If I believe that you’re always late (like my brother was for a while), I’ll completely overlook the times that you’re not late (again, like I did with my brother for a while). That’s the way we’re evolutionarily wired.

And to make matters worse – or at least to push us more emphatically into seeing only what we expect from others – is the added fact that once we think of someone as strong (or weak) or annoying (or amazing), we will then unconsciously act in ways that will invite that person to be strong (or weak) or annoying (or amazing) with us. We will treat them with disdain because “they deserve it” and feel justified when they act accordingly. Or look to them for courage and bravery and feel no surprise when they step powerfully into a situation. We think we’re that good at reading and knowing other people, when in reality it’s our behavior, based upon our expectations of their behavior, that helps to elicit that very behavior.

The only way I know to change this is to actively work against this bias. To look for strength, not weakness; to look for good, not evil. To actively search out evidence that will expand my perspectives and challenge my beliefs, and to actively treat others, as best as I can, as if I have not set expectations for how they’ll respond. Most of us find what we search for. The key is, how can we search for something else?

How have you worked against your biases?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.


For support in finding – and bringing out – the best in people, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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