Talking out of and acting out of problems

There’s a great story in the late Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book that I think I write about at least once every year. A man attending his seminar complained to Covey that his wife kept calling him every hour to check on him. He just couldn’t seem to get her to be reasonable. Curious, Covey asked him how they’d met.

The man sheepishly said that he’d met her at another seminar and cheated on his ex-wife.

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve acted yourself into” – were Covey’s wise words.

It is an idea I think about every once a while. I led a discussion yesterday when we were discussing reactions to a mistake that was made in the past weeks. Our responses to it were all over the map. After we heard from everyone, however, I didn’t have any intention for us to attempt to explain away the mistake. It happened. It sucked. We learnt from it. Not everything was going to be perfect. But, we’d pick up the pieces and move on. As with these things, I just hope we have a track record of action that far exceeds the one stumble. And, besides, if we were going to right the issue in the future (and part of it was acknowledging we might not be able to), we were going to do so by acting our way out of the problem.

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve acted yourself into” is another way of saying “Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.” It is my belief that this understanding is a bedrock of emotional intelligence. It is a lesson I’ve learnt the hard way and is one I try to remember as I go about my days.

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