Q. I'm an optimist about human behavior. I think most people mean well and are kind. Yet in the workplace I am constantly surprised by the thoughtless behavior my coworkers and customers will pull without blinking an eye. What am I missing, and how do I get people to behave better?
A. You are missing considering the reality of the human brain. Physically, our brains have three parts: a primitive reptilian brain, our emotions, and the relative evolutionary newcomer that is the thinking portion. What you are shocked by is that many people are run entirely by their reptile part and emotions.
When I was studying for my Ph.D. in human development, I was shocked to learn that most adults don't even achieve the last three levels of adult maturity. The most advanced stages of human development involve being able to use your feelings to identify with others and realizing you have to benefit others to achieve long-term success.
You are not going to find Harry Potter's wand, wave it around in your workplace, and change your coworkers' and customers' level of maturity. You can stop acting as if they possessed abilities that they don't.
If you were dealing with a crocodile, you know you would deal with it differently than with a loyal dog. When you look around your workplace, realize most people you deal with will do the right thing but only because it will hurt them if they don't.
Your job is to stop pretending you are dealing with a bunch of lovely animals and more assertively define what will happen if people don't behave well.
Let's say you have a meeting and it is imperative none of your team come late. You could send out a memo with the start time and cross your fingers that everyone will be thoughtful. Then again, keeping your new theory in mind, you could send out a memo that anyone who is not in the room at 9 a.m. will not be able to work on this highly visible and important project.
Lining up what you do and say to be more in line with the reality of most adults level of maturity does not mean being a crocodile or thoughtless yourself. What you are doing instead is not believing and acting on a reality that never existed in your workplace
Most of my clients spend at least a little time grieving that they do not currently live on the planet Kind and Thoughtful. Then they realize that most people are suddenly behaving (finally!) in thoughtful ways because now it is in their best interests to do so.
You can wait for the world to change, or you can change the way you see the world and get immediate results.
The last word(s)
Q. One of my coworkers is slow as molasses when it comes to returning email. Should I assume he is one of the following: stupid, lazy or disrespectful?
A. No, you should assume he doesn't know your preferences about email. Let him know you find it critical people respond within your stated timeframe. Now if he ignores that you can assume a darker intention.
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)