31 May Understanding Others – Internal/External Frame of Reference

Have you ever wondered why that staff member keeps on asking you for your opinion on the way they should complete a project or address a task or issue?  Perhaps you have found yourself asking ‘don’t they know how to do their own job?’  Or was there ever a situation where you gave instructions to a colleague and they went off and completed the task in their own way with no reference to your initial instructions?  Why is this so?  The Internal/External frame of reference can provide us with some clues.

What do they mean?

Someone with an internal frame of reference goes inside themselves/internal to reference whether they’ve done a good job, whether they’ve made the right decision, whether it’s the appropriate action to take.  They tend to check their internal barometer to know whether something is appropriate or right for the situation.  If someone is strongly internal you will often find that they make decisions or take action without truly considering the needs or wants of others.  They can also be difficult to give feedback to because they know in themselves they’ve done a good job and don’t need or value input from others.  These people need reasons, evidence, rationale about the job they’ve done or they won’t listen.

Someone with an external frame of reference seeks feedback from others regarding the best way forward. These people have no internal barometer.  They have no sense of whether they’ve done a good job, whether it’s a good decision, whether it’s the best action.  They’ve got no measurement criteria on how to assess the situation.  For this reason, they will seek other’s opinions and then behave accordingly. The external frame of reference needs a lot of reinforcement, acknowledgement and recognition and a lot of appreciation for the job they are doing.  These people need to be encouraged to check inside before they look externally for feedback.

Overall it is good to develop some flexibility on this continuum.