How we think and act affect relationships

Here is a copy of an article I was asked to write for ‘Ambition’, the magazine of the Association of MBAs.  As the topic is of general interest, I thought you might like to receive a copy.  Please feel free to forward it to others.

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are’  Anaïs Nin


How we think and act (‘Mindsets’ or ‘mental perceptions’) cover all aspects of our lives.  Each of us has created scores of mindsets e.g. about our own capabilities, our line manager, the market we work in, older workers, millennials, each of our colleagues.  

Our mindsets are constructed from a variety of sources such as our upbringing, environment, beliefs, assumptions, motivations and personal values.  Most of these mindsets are still valid and useful to us in our relationships.  Others may be out of date, or incomplete or just plain wrong. 

In this article I would like to share with you some of the ways in which our mindsets and their associated feelings can affect our behaviour and our relationships, often in adverse ways, and offer suggestions for learning alternative, more helpful, mindsets. 

Why how we think and act matter in relationships

One of the greatest barriers to enjoying healthy working relationships and a healthy state of mind is to be trapped by our own thinking.  How frequently do you hear comments like this at work: ‘I think he’s trying hard to get me moved to another department’; ‘She’s never liked me’; ‘Are you for or against this idea?’.

Most of us have had occasions when a thought – usually a negative one – has been going around and around in our heads for several days.  Each time this thought pops up in our conscious mind it feels as if it is getting stronger.  It doesn’t take long before that thought, and the emotions associated with it feel as real as any physical barrier.  We feel trapped.

It’s crazy, isn’t it, that a thought which is entirely intangible can put such a physical constraint on our actions and relationships.  As the author Mike Dooley said ‘Choose them wisely, thoughts become things!’

The more you can become aware of any ineffective mindset the more you can free up your thinking to discover alternative options and build better relationships.  Let’s take a look at how this works.

Ways of Thinking (Mindsets) in action

A mindset and the feeling associated with it are strong influences on how we behave.  Our behaviour, in turn, generates a satisfactory or an unsatisfactory outcome.

For example, you arrange to meet a potential client for the first time.  You think that the market is extremely competitive (‘mindset’) so you try hard to secure this client by endeavouring to convince them (‘behaviour’) of the uniqueness of your product.  Later you learn that you have lost this potential client (outcome) because the person felt pressurised and you did not listen to their viewpoint and needs.

When an outcome is unsatisfactory, instead of focussing on what you did last time, decide what outcome you would prefer and change your mindset and feelings to one that is likely to achieve your desired outcome.

Before reading further, consider a relationship you would like to improve.  What is it about your mindset and feelings towards this person that is ineffective?’  What change of mindset / feelings /behaviour is likely to improve the relationship?

Common midgets

Here are some common types of mindsets and their potential effect on relationships.

Self-limiting beliefs

Have you come across self-limiting beliefs such as:

One way to change a self-limiting belief is by working through the following process, preferably with a qualified coach or a trusted colleague.

My limiting belief or assumption is …………………………………………………………….. What evidence is there for this belief?  Is it 100% true or only partially true?  
What would be an alternative positive or empowering belief?  What acceptable risks could I take to shift my self-limiting belief and thereby liberate myself?   
Imagine a person with this alternative belief.  What sort of things would they feel, say and do?  Can I do or say these things?  When and how will I test this new belief or assumption?    Over the coming months continue to focus on the positive results of applying your new belief or assumption to stop the old belief re-establishing itself.

Self-fulfilling prophesies

Here is an example.  You are asked to make an important presentation to your top management team.  Although you have given presentations before to your team members, on this occasion – worried about the possible perceptions of the important people in the room and worried you might not give a good impression – you convince yourself that this presentation could end in disaster.  

On the day of the presentation you were on edge, you fumbled operating the visual aids, causing you to have a mild panic, your breathing became shallow and you were told afterwards that they thought you were nervous and lacking in enthusiasm and conviction.  

Now imagine what the outcome might have been if you had adopted a more empowering belief / feeling.

Next time a colleague says something like, ‘This project will end in disaster’ challenge this statement before this thought infects the whole team, triggers a chain of actions and failure becomes the physical reality.

Generalising, deleting and distorting

Mindsets of generalising, deleting or distorting information appear to offer quick answers and easy solutions but are usually inaccurate, serving only to reinforce unhelpful attitudes and sloppy thinking – which can potentially undermine relationships. 

As they can be unhelpful in relationships, it’s important to look out for these three types of mindsets and challenge them when you spot them.  Here are some suggestions how.  First, a colleague who generalises:

StatementHe’s always doing thatClarifying questionsAlways?  Every single time?

A person who deletes information omits to mention points that the listener would have expected to hear to make the statement clearer and more complete:

StatementBits of the meeting were OK Clarifying questionsWhich bits?  In what way?  What did they discuss during the rest of the meeting?

Distorting occurs when a colleague says something that we find difficult to fit into our mental framework of the world.  We need to ask questions to make connections between their world and ours:

Statement‘You’re not going to like this!Clarifying questions‘What exactly?  How do you know I won’t like it?  What gave you that idea?

A positive mindset of win-win thinking

A wonderful attitude for building and maintaining relationships in the workplace, as well as at home is to have the mindset of win-win thinking.  This approach is particularly useful when you are delegating work, giving feedback, in performance review discussions, at meetings with clients, or when wanting to be creative.

Win-win thinking requires two character traits to be in balance:

Mindsets of Binary Thinking and Implications Thinking

Binary Thinking, where only two options are presented as being possible, is widespread.  This is the temptingly attractive world of either / or thinking in which simplistic arguments and facile solutions often replace careful listening and creative thinking:

‘I’m right and you are wrong’

‘Do you believe in this proposal or not?’

‘Is your answer yes or no?’

There is a time and a place for Binary Thinking, for example after a full discussion or sales meeting when it seems an appropriate time to reach a decision.  However, earlier in a discussion Binary Thinking can kill creativity, narrow the range of options and lead to conflict.  For example, the statement ‘My idea is better than yours’ can encourage both parties to argue and fight for their corner.  A contest begins.  Egos become inflated.  Each person digs in their heels.  The contest becomes the survival of the loudest.

Implications Thinking, on the other hand, operates from an abundance mindset, which recognises that in many work situations there are more than two ways forward.

An abundance mentality is also about being able to let go of the need to defend your own position – it’s a belief that there are plenty of resources – creative ideas, praise, recognition, alternatives, potential clients ‘out there’ for everybody.  It results in sharing possibilities, options, decision-making, prestige, recognition and profits.

For Implications Thinking to flourish it is important that both people do their best to let go of the ownership of their original idea and generate three or more options.  The objective is to come up with a triple win-win-win i.e. the best solution for both individuals plus the client or organisation.


In conclusion, you will have realised the significant impact that mindsets can have on your relationships.  The beauty is that you can change any mindset that is a barrier to a relationship at work and to your enjoyment and your general well-being.

About the author

Richard Fox (dec’d)  was the founder of The Learning Corporation LLP   He was the author of the award winning ‘Making Relationships Work at Work – a toolkit for getting more work done with less stress’.