Here’s the scene. You’re just about to send out a very critical report to your seniors. If all goes well, you get some respite from your anxieties for a couple of weeks (if you expect any longer respite, you’re being overly optimistic).
And there comes one of your office colleagues, whom you also consider to be your friend. ‘Say what, better be careful with this mail. Make sure you put all that matters. If you do so, you’ll come out with flying colors. Else, your life is going to be miserable very soon’. Your anxiety levels have just shot up to the top floor of the building. And then the ‘fortune teller’ walks off, sharing his/her wisdom with other lesser mortals.
Tell you what the rub is. The problem with such ‘futuristic’ statements is that they work both ways. If your presentation goes well, the fortune teller will give a knowing smile, pat your hand, and say ‘didn’t I tell you?’, as if s/he’s the one who actually made it work. And well, if things go down the hill, the same fortune teller will give a knowing smile, pat your hand, and say ‘didn’t I tell you?’…
If you fall for the trap, which most of us do, a few things happen. Firstly, we start trusting the person much more, which leads to us sharing a lot many more insecurities with them than we ought to.
Second, they start becoming a part of our ‘inner circle’, a close group of people whom we like to hang around with, whose enemies become our enemies, and whose mental state starts impacting us.
Thirdly, and more problematically, we start listening to them and believing their ‘predictions’, and can also become their ‘chela’.
And their real contribution to our life,careers and goals? Zilch.
This ‘Fortune Teller’ can become a close associate or friend, and cause much greater harm to us than we realize. And we need to act immediately to move away from influence of such ‘friends’.
What should you do?
Spot the statements
The first thing to learn is spotting such ‘futuristic’ statements that are made by our ‘friends’.
Learn to identify ‘either way true’ statements. If you’re wondering what that means, read up any ‘horoscope’ section of any newspaper. Let me help you. In today’s horoscope, my ‘future’ is predicted as ‘The day is ripe for you to take positive action. Rise and shine, and win the day’. What if the day proceeds nice and smooth? ‘Didn’t I tell you?’. What if it doesn’t? ‘Didn’t I tell you, take positive action? You didn’t, so it went down the drain’.
The problem with such statements is that no matter how you turn them around, they’re true. As a mental exercise, you can tell yourself the following statement.
‘My day will be good today because I’m going to do good deeds’.
And then keep chasing your own tail!!!
Most such ‘fortune tellers’ ride on our insecurities, and the fact that human brains like to cling on to anything that sound ‘relevant’. Many mental biases play a role, especially confirmation bias, availability bias, and negativity bias, amongst others. Whenever someone tries to reach out to ‘comfort’ you with such statements, learn to maintain your equilibrium and not start pouring your heart out.
Learn to ask questions
Whenever anyone makes a statement that either makes us feel good, or insecure, the immediate reaction is for us to share our thoughts. Hold on to that. Ask questions like
– What makes you say that?
– Where did you get this information / impression from?
– Can you give me some specific examples / data points / information?
If the ‘fortune teller’ is someone senior in your team, couch your statements like ‘Oh, thank you so much for sharing this with me sir / ma’am / etc/ etc. I’m really touched by the fact that you’re so concerned about me. But i was wondering, if you can help me understand how did you identify that….’
Observe the Fortune Teller
It always feels nice when someone predicts a bright future for us. It also feels nice when someone ‘special’ is watching our backs. Fortune tellers ride on this emotion, and they use it to get closer to us, to be a part of our ‘inner group’. Motives vary, from truly becoming our friends, to getting us to work for them, to asking for personal favors, getting insider information on the team, sabotaging a good project, or to create general sense of chaos. The problem is that when we’re blinded to the ‘schema’, we fail to observe people. Take a step back, and ask yourself dispassionately ‘Why am I getting this attention from ____’
Run your own simulations
The best way to identify if someone really cares for you or is just bullshitting their way into your ‘inner circle’ is, running your own mental simulations. Pick up the statements the ‘Fortune Teller’ is making, and ask yourself, ‘What part of the statement could have been made to anyone? And what part of the statement is only for my ears.’
This is hard to do. Let me show you with an example. Read the following statement.
“You’re a hard working individual. You like to work behind the scenes, and when it comes to taking credit, you feel very awkward. You don’t like to publicize your work. Your motto is ‘actions speak louder than words’, and hence you feel it’s your work that should speak for you.”
Do tell me if you don’t agree with at least 30% of the above statement. In fact, such statements are so powerful because we feel that they’re ‘meant’ for us.
And here comes the simulation part of it. Can this statement be used for anyone else?
The answer is…ABSOLUTELY. FOR EVERYONE.
Do you know why? Because it touches our irrational brain. There is no data, observation, fact or detail that can anchor it to one single individual. This statement can be applied to a shop floor worker, a supervisor, a new manager, a manager of manager, the CFO or even the CEO!!!
Run such simulations, and see what results you get.
Where does this take you?
It is indeed a big fortune if you find true friends at work. It’s even a bigger fortune, if you’re able to find a mentor who covers your back, gives you support, guides you and helps you navigate the corporate madness.
But beware of the ‘fortune teller’ who tries to lure you with inane, random and non-verifiable statements, and tries to cozy up to you.
Stay focused, and have a good fortune.