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  • Bob Burg

“Master the contents of Endless Referrals and you will practically GUARANTEE your future success.”

~ Tom Hopkins, Author, Master the Art of Selling

Belief Systems

July 30th, 2010 by Bob Burg

Ever have a disagreement with someone only to later learn that it was based totally and completely on a misunderstanding? If you’re like most of us, your answer is a definite “Yes!” Let’s look at why this is, as well as a method you can use to overcome it, making your level of communication far more effective.

Whenever speaking on the topic of what I call, “Winning Without Intimidation” — mastering the art of positive persuasion — I begin with an explanation of an extremely important concept; “Beliefs.”

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

What exactly does that mean?

Truth itself is fact. It is neutral, without feeling. It is 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. That manifests as good when keeping you from floating thousands of feet into the air against your wishes.  It could be interpreted as rather bad when falling out of a six-story building.*

Viewing most interpersonal situations as good or bad, however, isn’t always that easy. Making it even more difficult is that determining the “goodness” or “badness” of any specific event or situation falls to a very subjective part of ourselves known as our Belief System.**

Our basic belief system is formed at a very young age. Many psychiatrists state that age as four years though I suspect the process begins even earlier! Our belief system is first given to us by our family and then finely chiseled by our environment, associations and life experiences. Once formed, our basic beliefs are extremely difficult (though certainly not impossible) to change because they operate primarily on an unconscious level. And, the unconscious rules. And, it rules without most of us even being aware that it rules!

A very somber example: someone grows up witnessing a very abusive relationship between his or her parents. This abuse may have been physical, verbal, emotional, or any combination of the above. Needless to say, it was a “bad” situation in which to grow up.

In all likelihood, the person who grew up in that environment believes, on a conscious level, that situation was “bad.” And yet, why does it happen so often – certainly more often than not – that throughout their life, that person will go from one “bad” relationship to another?

Because – plain and simply – their Belief System says that is the “truth” regarding how relationships are! As mentioned earlier, a belief is the truth as YOU understand the truth to be, regarding the way life is. On an unconscious level, that person will continually steer their way to their truth, according to their belief system.

Though most likely they won’t consciously seek out a partner to fit that belief, they will often sabotage the “good” relationships they find themselves in until finding the one that fits their belief system.

A lighter example is a disagreement I had with someone many years ago. He was thinking about moving to this area and asked if a particular home a Realtor told him about over the phone was near the ocean. I said, “No, it’s pretty far away.” So he told the Realtor 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 told me it wasn’t near the ocean!”

Me: It isn’t!
Him: It is, too!
Me: No, it isn’t!
Him: Yes, it is!
(No, neither of us stuck out our tongue at the other and went “nyah, nyah”)

Let’s analyze this: 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 mis-communication had something to do with our belief systems. Yes, we are still friends. Why did neither of us think to mention the exact number of miles? I dunno.

In both business and personal relationships, when conflicts arise, the typical belief system is “For me to win, they need to lose.” Or, “If I want a bigger piece of pie, I need to take his or her slice.”

The Winning Without Intimidation (and, for that matter, the Go-Giver) Belief System says, “For me to win, I need to also help the other person win, or at least help them to feel good about the situation and themselves.” And, “If I want a bigger slice of pie, I’ll get together with him or her and bake a bigger pie” (which I have no clue how to do but you get my point). 🙂

In other words, “Both people win.”

So let’s look at an effective way to work with “Beliefs” in practically any type of situation in order to ensure that both you and the other person come out winners.

First, when in confrontation with a person you may be finding difficult to get along with, 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; their truth, the other person’s truth, and the actual truth (really, those first two truths are actually beliefs).

Through questions, as well as a caring exchange of information, the real truth can usually be discovered, generating understanding, peace, and respect. This leads to results in alignment with the Winning Without Intimidation and Go-Giver Belief Systems in which both people win.


* The use of the words “good” and “bad” are used for easier reading (and, really, on my part, easier writing) since one could say that even “good and bad” are simply concepts. Spiritually  speaking, one might say that nothing is bad, because everything happens for a reason and, ultimately for the good (ahhh, there is that “bad and good” again. See what I mean?) ;-). On a serious note, this is not to make light of any personal tragedies that simply cannot be explained on a human level.

**While there are many excellent books that explore the topic of Belief Systems on a much deeper level than we did in this article, two that I highly recommend are Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I’ve found both to be invaluable in my personal growth.

21 Responses to “Belief Systems”
  1. Paul Jansen said at 8:35 am on

    A great article! It implies though that (you believe) there is something called ‘the actual truth’. You write “Truth itself is fact.” May I suggest that is #1 just a theoretical assumption and #2 root-thought for many conflicts and thus #3 not practical when bridging beliefs e.g. resolving conflict.
    So lets abandon the thought that there is something like an ‘objective truth’. It will probably only exist when no humans are present 🙂 so, lets drop ‘the truth’. What then is left is a great piece on the relativity of truth and how to deal with (inter) personal differences in perception a.k.a. beliefs…

  2. Bob Burg said at 9:26 am on

    Good morning, Paul, and thank you for your comments. First, yes, you correctly “inferred my implication” 🙂 in that I absolutely do believe there are truths. What I don’t believe is that I necessarily know what they are (though I “think” I do, which, of course, is simply my “Belief System(s)” at work). LOL

  3. Debbi said at 10:38 am on

    Very timely post 🙂 Thanks.

  4. Scott said at 10:38 am on

    Great stuff Bob! I have been speaking and writing about belief systems that are within every one of us for a long time now. You are correct: they do not care if they are healthy or un healthy. All they do is show up and guide our life. Man I just love this awareness stuff!

  5. Tom Haupt said at 1:11 pm on

    Hi Bob- Great content. I believe the more people understand their belief system, the more they live from consciousness. And of course as you know, when one lives consciously in life, one gets to live from true choice. Perfect. I too have read both Psycho-Cybernetics and The Four Agreements, great books. I am sending you my new book via mail as a gift, I think you’ll enjoy it in the same vein you enjoyed these two books and I have enjoyed yours! Have a great weekend! Tom

  6. Bob Burg said at 8:53 am on

    Debbi: Thank you.
    Scott: Great point. They do indeed show up and guide our lives, don’t they. That’s why it’s so important that we understand them…and control *them* rather than the other way around. A work in progress, isn’t it?
    Tom: Terrific points, thank you. Very well said!

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