Most of us have experienced the funk we feel when it seems that everyone else is a problem. We know what it feels like to be closed off from others, reactive rather than responsive, bitter, inaccessible and closed. It’s a lonely place to be—it’s like living in a box.
A Primer on “The Box” and Mindset
The phrase “in the box” was adopted early on in The Arbinger Institute’s history as a way to describe this state of stuckness we are all too familiar with but seem unable to overcome. Being in the box means that you see yourself and others in a systematically distorted way—as mere objects. Others don’t matter the way you matter, whether they’re obstacles to your achievements, vehicles for your success, or simply irrelevant. Conversely, being out of the box means that you see yourself and others more or less as you are—as people. In this sense, others matter the same way you do and are capable of the same things too (the great, the good, the bad and the ugly).
Arbinger’s new way of speaking about this same phenomenon—inward and outward mindset—illustrates the same principles. An inward mindset describes a mentality wherein the individual is focused solely on him or herself. Again, akin to being in the box, from an inward mindset others don’t matter like I do. We are cut off from and closed to their needs and challenges—their humanity. An outward mindset describes a mentality wherein the individual is focused on collective success and wellbeing. A person with an outward mindset is aware of and alive to the needs, concerns and objectives of others and understands that their needs, concerns and objectives matter.
Think about it—functioning with an inward mindset, am I more likely to appreciate the good, or notice the bad? See ways to help, or see ways to blame? Find ways to teach, or complain of stupidity?
The Reality Check
Think of a time when you’ve functioned from an inward mindset—a time when you were more concerned about others’ impact on you rather than your impact on them. Consider what traits you exhibited, and the emotions you cultivated. What were your interactions like with others? What sort of thoughts crossed your mind? Consider the following questions:
- What am I like when I am functioning from an inward mindset at work?
- What effect do I have on others when I’m inward?
- What am I like when I am functioning from an outward mindset at work?
- What effect do I have on others when I’m outward?
What do you learn when you answer these questions honestly? Does it change the way you view your interactions with others?