In my last blog, I talked about the concept of looking at a situation through a microscope or a telescope. By this, I mean focusing so acutely on the problem that it is all you see versus putting it into its proper perspective. However, just as there is a concern about spending too much time looking through the microscope, there is a similar concern about spending too much time looking through the telescope.

The telescope can make it very easy for us to avoid doing the necessary self-reflection and deflect the issue as being the fault of others or circumstances beyond our control. It can create a false sense of distance between the problem and the person. Let’s take Anne, who left a job because her supervisor is “unreasonable and difficult to get along with” only to find herself already having issues with the supervisor at her new job.

Those who follow me know that I love leveraging quotes to support my idea. George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is where the concept of the microscope comes in. Scientists use the microscope to tease apart items in order to examine the individual parts and pieces. Similarly, I use the microscope to help clients probe more deeply into the issue they are facing.

In Anne’s case, a look through the microscope allowed us to discover that she had experienced some very public, very critical feedback in her first job out of college. Since then, she’d had a hard time accepting any feedback. In fact, she was distrustful of ‘management,’ waiting for the next shoe to drop. As a result of this, even when her supervisor tried to give her positive feedback, she discredited it. And, when the supervisor tried to give her constructive feedback she railed against it — blaming her peers, company policies and processes, her supervisor, or anyone or anything else.

This operating system had been running silently in the background without her ever having made the connection to the experience she’d had in that first job. Focusing on the telescope had allowed her to blame her supervisors for the friction. By shifting our attention to the microscope we were able to explore the ways in which she might be contributing to the tension and help her to understand how best to move forward.

When have you found yourself “repeating the past?” How were you able to recognize and break the pattern?