Work Traits

Internal Frame of Reference

Internal frame of reference is especially helpful for situations and projects where you need to take the lead and make quick decisions.
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What is internal frame of reference?

Internal frame of reference means you often feel that you can’t trust anybody as much as you trust yourself. You likely have a strong intuition and feel confident making decisions about situations and choices. 

On a team, you’re happy to lead projects and make important decisions without waiting for a consensus or gathering a bunch of opinions from others. You believe in your ability to weigh the facts and choose the way forward, without various external factors influencing your decision-making. 

You’re comfortable stating and supporting your own opinion—even when others disagree. A few different perspectives won’t immediately sway your viewpoint when your gut tells you you’re right.

We call it: Internal Reference

Your level of motivation for using your own criteria to form opinions and make decisions.

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

Jane Austen

Leaders who have high internal frame of reference

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Jane Austen is remembered as one of the best English novelists of her time. That fact is made even more remarkable when you realize that she built that legacy during a time when women weren’t supposed to pursue fame or a career.

Like many female authors of the time, Austen started out publishing anonymously. But, it wasn’t long before she began putting her name on her work. Even more groundbreaking was the subject matter of her novels, which provided social commentary on the institution of marriage. Austen believed marriage should be about love rather than social status or finances—an idea that wasn’t commonplace at the time. 

There were likely many vocal naysayers about her novels and her entire career, but Austen trusted her intuition to carve out her own place in history.

Oprah Winfrey

Actress and television personality, Oprah Winfrey, is a big believer in the power of trusting her own choices. In fact, she credits her own intuition for all of the big moves she made in her life—including owning her show and eventually ending it.

While Winfrey says she does take in the advice of others, she always returns to what she feels about most strongly. 

“When you don't know what to do, do nothing,” Winfrey wrote in a post for “Get quiet so you can hear the still, small voice—your inner GPS guiding you to your true North.”

Oprah Winfrey
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Reed Hastings

Netflix has launched countless successful, original shows and many of them are owed to the gut of CEO Reed Hastings.

In fact, leaders at Netflix have reportedly nicknamed him “the golden gut” because he tends to trust his instinct about what shows will be wild successes — and he tends to be right.

Where other CEOs might rely on data and external opinions, Hastings trusts himself to know which show concepts are worth pursuing. In fact, he’s been quoted as saying that data science “simply isn’t sophisticated enough to predict whether a product will be a hit. Ultimately that rests on a bit of faith that we can predict the future of how consumers will react to a new idea.”

The benefits of having an internal frame of reference

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You don’t need a ton of hand-holding or reassurance that you’re on the right track. You can accept a project, remove yourself from the insights and directions of others, and take steps forward on your own.

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You don’t rely on the opinions of other people. On the contrary, you’d prefer to move forward without them. This enables you to make decisions rapidly and without a lot of hemming and hawing.

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Because you’re able to make progress and swift decisions on your own, you’re likely the person your team turns to when they need someone to take charge, provide guidance, or offer a gut check.

The blind spots of having an internal frame of reference

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External Reference

You’re self-assured and confident in your abilities. But, that can also mean that you’re less excited to hear the opinions, insights, and methods of others—especially if they’re different from yours.

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You might be creative alone, but creativity tends to multiply with fresh input. When you have the tendency to rely solely on yourself and your intuition, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. You might have an easier time innovating if you consider perspectives that differ from your own.

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Typically your high degree of trust in yourself is a good thing. But if taken to an extreme, team members could view you as stubborn and challenging to reason with because of your strong belief in your own perspective.

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How to have a higher internal frame of reference

1) Do what you can.

We’ve all had those situations when we’ve taken on a new project, and we realize we’re not confident in how to move forward.

Despite the fact that your first inclination might be to run to someone to help, try to do what you can on your own first—even if it’s just some small steps. Gather some research or complete the action items you currently understand.

That can help you get some confidence and momentum. You might surprise yourself with what you’re able to accomplish by yourself, without calling in an assist right away.

2) Ask clarifying questions upfront.

In order to work independently, you need to understand the task or project you’ve been given. Too often, we take an assignment and ask plenty of questions as we chip away at it.

If you’re trying to become more comfortable with a solo environment, ask as many clarifying questions as you can at the start.

That will equip you with the information you need right out of the gate, so you can make some impactful progress on your own (without having to defer to others throughout the process).

3) Check in with yourself.

Sometimes we don’t leave ourselves enough space to hear our intuition talking to us. We’re too busy listening to the counsel of others or rushing to make a quick decision.

Give your gut a chance to be heard. Before making a decision, take at least five quiet minutes to reflect on how you really feel about the situation. 

Chances are, a strong feeling will start to emerge—and now it’s your responsibility to honor it.

4) Keep your internal promises.

You’ll have a hard time building self-trust if you feel like you’re always letting yourself down. Like any other type of trust, you need to follow through and prove that you’re worthy of that faith and confidence.

Start by keeping the promises you make to yourself. If you say you’re going to do something, do it—even if nobody else knows about that goal or commitment.

As strange as it seems, over time you’ll start to believe in yourself that much more.

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