Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Behaviors Don’t Represent a Person’s Nature

Smoking Jack SparrowYou can’t trust the outwardly presented behaviors of people to accurately represent their real personality or nature. Often behaviors that look “bad” are driven by something outside of the individual’s control. Look at the scenario below as I reveal more information in “The reality”.

The natural assumption

I was walking out of an attractive office building and saw two people about to enter the entrance to the foyer. The guy flicked a cigarette out onto the large outdoor brick and concrete entryway surface. Wow, I can’t believe that guy just did that. A still smoldering cigarette littering the clean decorative sidewalk. What would this tell you about his character?

The reality

When the man and woman first came into my view, the woman was gazing about as if she was looking for something. The man appeared to be looking at the outdoor trashcan with a puzzled look on his face. Just before flicking the cigarette, he shrugged his shoulders out of what looked like frustration. Neither of them noticed me until they were already inside the building.

The office complex was a smoke free campus, but it was not very well marked on the property. There was no cigarette butt receptacle near the entrance. Clearly the man didn’t want to put his butt in the trash can and risk starting a fire. Both of the them were looking for a safe place to dispose of the cigarette - they were conscientious people wanting to do the right thing.

In business, how we treat people and and their ideas are often influenced by our impression of their personalities as perceived through their behaviors. We can be dismissive, judgmental, and exclusive. None of those are conducive to getting the most creative ideas for improvement and support for change.

When you see “bad” behavior at work, instead try assuming there is an underlying issue driving that behavior and let them prove you wrong. If you are a leader, try to find out the root cause and drive it to resolution. Thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. In psychology this mistake is called a "fundamental attribution error." It is defined by attributing circumstantial behavior to a person's identity. It is the American way unfortunately. Ever get mad at a driver who cut you off and assume they are stupid, or did it intentionally? When in fact is simply human fallibility. Positive change, synergy, in any group is all about respect for people and their perspectives.