Building Better Belief Systems

“Appearances can be deceiving. Truth is, they nearly always are.” – Pindar (mentor) to Joe (protégé) in The Go-Giver.

Why is it so often the case that, what we’re absolutely sure we know turns out to be wrong? Because, as human beings, we make decisions and judgments (both minor and major) based on very limited information; information controlled by our personal Belief System.

Ever have an anger-filled disagreement with someone only to later learn it was based totally and completely on a misunderstanding?

Ever crossed signals with a friend and learned only after it was too late that you both unquestioningly assigned very different meanings to the exact same word; hence the confusion?

And, have you ever lost a sale because, while certain your prospect was bothered by one issue, she wasn’t at all…but – only later discovered – was actually very concerned with another?

If you’re like most of us, your answer is a definite “Yes!” Let’s see why this is and then provide a method you can use to overcome it, making your level of communication far more effective and your success more assured.

It Begins with Beliefs

I define a “belief” as: “the truth as one understands the truth to be.”

Truth itself is fact. It is neutral, without feeling. It’s neither good nor bad…it just is. It may be viewed as good or bad depending upon the context, situation and people involved. For example, the truth is that gravity works. Good when keeping you from floating thousands of feet into the air against your wishes. Bad when falling out of a six-story building.

Because of the natural subjectivity of Belief Systems, however, judging interpersonal situations isn’t always that easy.

Our personal Belief System is a combination of upbringing, environment, schooling, news media, television, movies, internet, etc. Every experience our mind ever takes in. At times, these beliefs serve us well. All too often, however, they do not.

Once formed, our Belief System is extremely difficult (though certainly not impossible) to change because it operates primarily on both a subconscious and unconscious level.

Yes, we are ruled by our subconscious without even being aware of it. That is scary. And, even after we understand this, it takes a lot of work both to stay aware of this, and to re-program our subconscious mind so that the operating system serves us.

A very somber example is the person who grows up the child of an abusive relationship. In all likelihood, he or she knows this is not good; that it’s an unhealthy way to live. Yet, it happens all too often that, as an adult, this person will go from one “bad” relationship to another?

Why? Because their Belief System says this is the “truth” about relationships. Without being conscious of this and taking definite steps to change, they will continually steer their way to their truth, according to their Belief System.

No, they won’t consciously seek out a partner to fit that belief, but rather sabotage the “good” relationships they find themselves in until finding the one that fits their truth.

Another example is money and abundance. If raised to believe that money is evil and that wealthy people are nasty, dishonest and unhappy, he or she will most likely self-sabotage whenever getting close to bringing in the major bucks.

They won’t know why. They’ll blame the traffic that caused them to miss the appointment with the ultimate decision-maker who was ready to buy. Of course, there was traffic. Then again, they could have left earlier, just in case. Hmm, come to think of it, similar things have been happening a lot to that person lately.

They might never realize the self sabotage, because they think of themselves as kind and honest and desire to be happy (the exact opposite of their truth about wealthy people), they could never allow themselves to be one of those horrible people.

A Lighter But Still Powerful Example

A friend was considering moving to the area and asked if a particular home a Realtor® described over the phone was near the ocean. I said, “No, it’s pretty far away.” So he decided he wasn’t interested.

When he and his wife arrived they asked me to show them the home just so they could see it. Upon viewing it he said, “I thought you said it wasn’t near the ocean!”

Me: It isn’t!

Him: It is, too!

Let’s analyze: The “truth” is that home was seven miles from the ocean. I, living in Jupiter, Florida and two blocks from the ocean, feel that seven miles is far away. He, being from the Midwest, feels seven HUNDRED miles from the ocean isn’t too far away. I’d say our miscommunication had something to do with our Belief Systems. Why didn’t I think to mention the exact number of miles?

In both business and personal relationships, when conflicts arise, we tend to believe we are communicating correctly. It’s the other person who has no clue. Of course, they are thinking the very same thing about us.

An Effective Solution

So, how do we resolve interpersonal conflicts?

First, we need to become aware that, while we are working unconsciously out of our own Belief System, our counterpart is doing exactly the same. And, we all think that the way we see the world is the same way everyone else sees the world. It’s important realize the fact that – in practically every case where there is conflict – we are both working out of two very different sets of beliefs.

Next, we practice staying conscious of this; constantly “checking our premises” – qualifying that we are making decisions based not just on appearances but on what really is.

Here’s a very effective way to work with “Beliefs” and Belief Systems in order to practically ensure that both you and the other person come out winners.

When in conflict or confrontation, ask yourself four questions:

1. How is my personal Belief System distorting the actual truth of the situation?

2. How is his or her personal Belief System distorting the actual truth of the situation?

3. What questions can I ask this person that will clarify my understanding of their version of the truth (their Belief System)?

4. What information can I give that will help them clarify their understanding of my version of the truth (my Belief System)?

As the saying goes, within conflict between two or more people, there are generally three truths: your truth, their truth, and the actual truth (those first two truths are actually beliefs).

For a deeper of understanding of this topic, I highly recommend Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Through questions, as well as a caring exchange of information, the real truth can usually be discovered, generating understanding, respect and peace. This leads to results in alignment with our Belief Systems in which both people win, feel great about the situation, and about each other.

[Ed. Note. Bob Burg is coauthor of the International Bestseller, The Go-Giver. The book has been published in 21 languages and has sold over 250,000 copies. Check out this brief and entertaining, recently- released overview of the book at And, of course, feel free to share it with others.]
  • 47
  • The current owner of a business I work for depends on me for marketing efforts even though taking care of marketing isn’t in my job description. The marketing budget is small and the responsibilities aren’t overwhelming, so I’m happy to do it. I exceed all expectations the owner had when he hired me and, because of this, he has come to rely on me heavily.

    Today I will tell him that I’ve found another job – a writing position at a marketing firm. He’s going to be upset – very upset.

    Having read this piece by Bob will help me out a lot in the forthcoming conversation I’m to have with the owner this morning. Analyzing his belief system and empathizing with him will help me communicate my reason for leaving better.

    • Robert: Thank you for your feedback. Looks as though what you did with your current company is an excellent example of providing even more in value than what you took in payment and, as such, you advanced to an even bigger place in your life, creating an even better opportunity. Huge congratulations to you. Congrats also for realizing the importance of speaking with tact, empathy and understanding to the boss you are leaving. I have a feeling there are great things in store for you!

  • Michelle Desgagne

    Thank you! Excellent examples of our subjectivity in every situation. I also would suggest another book called The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. When I read Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements I backed it up with the CP & they turned out to be perfect companions-each playing off the other’s subject lines.I Highly recommend these books if you want to gain a better understanding of your own communicating style & the contributing factors that can unintentionally create confusion around our communications & just in general, relationships with others.

    I’ve not read Psycho-Cybernetics & will check it out too.

    • Michelle: Thank you for your kind feedback. I agree that The Celestine Prophecy is another excellent example in this regard. Especially important was Redfield’s wisdom regarding “Drama’s” which is sort of the unconcious automatic response (or, more accurately, “react”) mechanism we as human fall into in stressful situations. I think you summarized it perfectly. And, just reading your excellent commentary, I believe you will really enjoy Psycho-Cybernetics, as well! Thank you again!

  • Outstanding piece Bob. Love the definitions – “I define a “belief” as: ‘the truth as one understands the truth to be.’ Truth itself is fact. It is neutral, without feeling. It’s neither good nor bad…it just is.” Digging in one’s heels without fulling attempting to assess both one’s own belief systems AND that of the person(s) they are dealing with almost always leads to issues.
    Thanks @EarlytoRiseHQ for having Bob guest post.

    • Bill: Thank you. Very kind of you to say. Yes, I believe it’s so important to “define terms” as they provide us with the premise, or foundation from which everything else develops in terms of understanding. Paraphrasing, Ayn Rand, “even excellent logic – if based on a false premise – can never result in a correct conclusion.” And, in this case, understanding the difference between beliefs and truths – ours and the other persons – is vital to any kind of effective communication. Again, my thanks!