This is a Turn-it-in assignment. It is important to provide at least two sources for your bibliography.
1000 word essay that describes your understanding of the article by Dr. Clawson. What are the highlights of this article?
What will you take away from this? on a PERSONAL Level? on a Business Level?
More information about this article is available on line, so do some research. You can use the Text book as a second sources.
This technical note was adapted by Professor James G. Clawson from his earlier note, UVA-OB-0183. Copyright 2001 by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation, Charlottesville, VA. All rights reserved. To order copies, send an e-mail to email@example.com. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of the Darden School Foundation. ◊
A LEADER’S GUIDE TO WHY PEOPLE BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO
To be autonomous means to act in accord with one’s self—it means feeling free and volitional in one’s actions. When autonomous, people are fully willing to do what they are doing, and they embrace the activity with a sense of interest and commitment. Their actions emanate from their true sense of self, so they are being authentic. In contrast, to be controlled means to act because one is being pressured. When controlled, people act without a sense of personal endorsement. Their behavior is not an expression of the self, for the self has been subjugated to the controls. In this condition, people can reasonably be described as alienated.
—Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do
Leaders influence people. Unless leaders understand why people behave the way they do, their efforts to influence others will have random, perhaps unpredictable, even alienating effects. You might try to influence someone and get just the opposite effect that you expected. For instance, perhaps you have been trying to get a subordinate to do something at work, and no matter what you do, she just won’t respond. On the other hand, maybe your boss has been asking you to do something, and you resist. If you’ve ever asked yourself as a leader or a colleague, “Now why did he do that?” you’ve wrestled with this problem. At home, at work, or at play, you have no doubt observed people doing things that were, to you, unexpected or unusual. You may have seen two people in very similar situations respond in very different ways. All of these incidents raise the question, for leaders, of why people behave the way they do. This is a very complex subject about which volumes have been and continue to be written. This chapter will introduce some fundamentals about what motivates people, suggest under what conditions they will give their best efforts, and then offer a summary framework that has proven pragmatic and powerful for leaders in a variety of situations.
Some people resist this conversation by saying that you are being asked to be psychologists
rather than leaders. There is a difference. Both leaders and psychologists have to know something about human behavior, and both are encouraging change. Leaders who resist understanding human behavior focus at a very superficial level and simply command, “Do this!” or “Do that!”—clearly a Level One approach. At the other extreme, many psychologists and psychiatrists try to understand the very building blocks of a person’s personality, delving into significant and perhaps distant
historical events. Our target lies in between. Effective leaders understand why the people they are trying to influence behave the way they do. Since mere compliance with commands is no longer an effective, competitive mind-set (getting workers to do grudgingly and “good enough” will no longer set you apart from the competition), effective leaders’ mental models of leadership go beyond giving orders and assuming compliance for monetary rewards. On the other hand, leaders are not trying necessarily to understand where a person’s personality or psyche comes from, but they are trying to understand what that person’s motivations are in the present. Ignorance of the fundamentals of human behavior leaves one with a limited set of generic influence models that may or may not have impact on any particular individual. Deeper understanding provides more options, gives one more potential tools, and frankly, makes one a more powerful leader. The Beginnings
For the first nine months of existence, human fetuses are an integral part of another human being. Whatever preliminary awareness there may be of life, it is enveloped entirely inside another. When we are born, we begin a three to six month process of becoming simply, aware of our individuality, that we are separate, that we are no longer totally encased in the identity of another human being. As this emerging awareness dawns on us, at least five fundamental “questions” arise. These are not conscious questions in the sense of our thinking about them, rather they represent issues that must be resolved one way or another. Their answers begin to shape our sense of individuality, our sense of our place in the world, and our fundamental stance in it. These questions include:
1. When I’m cold, am I made warm?
2. When I’m hungry, am I fed?
3. When I’m wet, am I made dry?
4. When I’m afraid, am I comforted?
5. When I’m alone, am I loved?
When these questions are answered affirmatively, we tend to feel (rather than think) that we are cared for, that we have a place in the world, and that life, and more particularly, the key people in it, are supportive, confirming, and comfortable. We begin to learn that while “we” are not “they,” “they” are “good.” We begin to ascribe to the “object” of our attention, our parents, attributes of caring, concern, and dependability which we generalize to other “objects” or people in life.1 When these answers are answered in whole or in part negatively, we tend to develop different feelings, that we are not cared for (as much as we want/need), that we may not have a place in the world (as much as we want/need), and that life and “others” in it are not supportive, confirming or comfortable (as much as we want/need). Of course, no parent is able to be there all the time. Sometimes when we
1 For more detail on object relations theory of human mental development see N. Gregory Hamilton, The Self and the Ego in Psychotherapy (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc, 1996); and Jill Savege Scharff and David E. Scharff, The Primer of Object Relations Theory (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc, 1995).
are cold, hungry, wet, afraid or alone, Mother does not come. And the uncertainty of this leads us to begin to “question” the security of the world around us.
If the questions above are answered negatively too often, we begin to develop “holes” in our personalities. By “holes” I mean uncertainties even fears about our place in the world. Sometimes these are small holes, sometimes quite large. Studies of chimpanzees in France, for example, showed that if a baby chimpanzee was left alone without motherly comfort, yet supplied with more than enough shelter, warmth, light, food and water, the baby eventually would die. In humans, too many negative responses to inchoate, but deeply felt, needs may lead children to a feeling of uncertainty or even betrayal. The noted English psychologist, Melanie Klein, calls this the “good breast/bad breast” phenomenon: part of the time I get what I want, part of the time, I don’t and that makes me angry with the very person who bore me. It can become a psychological dilemma for a person, especially if the negative responses outweigh the positive ones.
These “holes” in our personalities can be very influential in our lives. If they are large enough, they can persist, perhaps even dominate our adult activities for decades, even our whole lives. Let me give you an example. One day a student came to see me. She came in, shut the door, sat down, and began sobbing. I said, “what’s the matter?” She said that she had just gotten the job of her dreams, making more money than she thought she could make, with the very company she had always wanted to work for. “Hmm,” I said, “what’s the problem?” She had called her mother. She said that she reported her success to her mom, and that within fifteen seconds the conversation had turned to her mother’s charity work, her latest accomplishments, what she was working on, how many accolades she had received lately, and so on. Then, this student said, “You know, it’s been that way my whole life. Every time I’ve tried to talk to her about me, it quickly turns to being about her!”
This is an example of an apparent “emotional hole” in the mother’s psyche. Even in the face of her own daughter’s milestone achievement, she was driven to shift the conversation to her own long-since unfulfilled needs for attention and recognition. We might well expect that this mother, when she was a child, did not get sufficient positive responses to the five fundamental questions above. When she needed comforting, she didn’t get it. When she needed loving, she didn’t get enough of it. Probably, her mom or dad rewarded her with some attention when she made some achievement that pleased them. She learned that her checked-off-to-do list was more important to them than who she was. With that hole inside her personality, she began searching for ways to “fill it in” through achievements, trying to find ways to later on to get the love, affirmation, and comforting that she did not get as a child. This meant that when she became a mother, her child became another means of filling in those holes. Unwittingly, she “used” her infant to “love her” and to affirm her importance. And in the process, the child, my student, did not get what she needed.
We can observe elsewhere in adult life the behavioral result of these “holes” developed in
infancy. When you meet someone at a cocktail party and the entire conversation revolves around their life, interests, hobbies, and goals, you might begin to wonder if they aren’t trying to fill in a hole, by now a habitual behavior, by keeping the spotlight of attention on themselves. Maybe you have had situations like I’ve seen where you are in a conversation with a small group and another
person comes up, and that person somehow changes the topic of conversation (regardless of what the group was talking about) to their own agenda. Why do people do this? Often it is because they did not get what they needed as a small infant and unknowingly they are spending the rest of their lives trying to fill in that gap, trying to get the attention and affirmation that they did not get as a child. Melanie Klein2 and Alice Miller3 describe this “gift” that parents give to their children, the natural conflicts, small or large, of going from being totally and completely cared for to a world in which even those closest are inconsistent in their love and caring.
So my student’s mother, not getting what she wanted as a child, grows up, marries and has children, including my student. Now, as her children are young, unknowingly, she seeks to affirm her own identity in the world, to fill in these holes, and this effort spills over into her mothering. Consequently, she may not give her children what they need, perhaps rather, seeking to get love and affection from them (perhaps manifest in language like, “Don’t you love your Mother?” instead of “Mommy loves you.”), and they, in turn, begin to develop holes because they are not getting what they needed as infants. And so, a 30 year old woman, graduating from a well-known professional school, getting the job she’s always dreamed of for more money than she’d ever hoped for, finds it hollow, empty, and a cause for sobbing.
The problem is that we cannot fill in these holes later in life. The attempt to do so is an unending source of frustration and emotional anguish. Miller makes this point as does Gail Sheehy4. However many achievements we may attain, however much money we make, however many buildings we may build, however many accolades and awards and prizes we may win, they will not fill in these holes left by parents who could not give what we needed at the time of infancy. We can recognize them, however, and in that recognition begin to make a “necessary passage” to let go of the desire to fill the hole. We can grieve the fact, if necessary, that we didn’t get what we wanted and/or needed, and move on by learning to accept ourselves and our right as human beings to take up space in the world. In Klein’s terms, we have to come to terms with the “good breast/bad breast” dilemma and reach a reparation of the conflict, acknowledging this reality, perhaps grieving at the recognition, and then move on.
These fundamental five questions, however, imply a sixth question that lingers throughout
our lives: “how can I get other people to do what I want?” Depending on our developing personality and its holism or “hole-ism”, we tend to develop strategies for influencing others. Perhaps we learned early on that bullying worked most of the time. Perhaps we learned that pretending to be pitiful elicited the results we hoped for. Perhaps we learned that by being the “best” at anything would get us the adoration we craved internally. These and other strategies all have pros and cons associated with them. But these learned strategies for influencing others are not the end of the story.
2 Melanie Klein, Love, Hate and Reparation (New York: Norton, 1964). 3 Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child (New York: Basic Books, 1997). 4 Gail Sheehy, Necessary Passages (New York: Bantam, 1984).
Our genetic endowment The object relations theorists and child psychologists represented above present a largely
“nurture” view, namely that people are born with a blank slate upon which the tendencies of their lives are written by parents, friends, and other forces around them. Yet any parent will tell you that children have innate and unique tendencies. Clearly we have inherited a variety of characteristics from our parents. These include not only physical characteristics like eye and hair color, metabolism and body shape, but also bio-chemical balances and emotional tendencies as well as more fundamental species-specific instincts or drives like breathing, eating and drinking, reproducing, and socializing. Nigel Nicholson at the London Business School makes a case that many aspects of our human behavior, including the seemingly universal tendency to create hierarchies, is an inherited trait that is “hard wired” into our DNA strings.5 As we have recently mapped the human genome and continue research on the impact of genes on our behavior, we will learn more about the proportion of our behavior that is “pre-determined” by our genetic endowments. It’s a difficult and interesting question. It may be, for example, that we can no more “teach” a hard-nosed, autocratic leader to be kind and gentle than we can “teach” a person not to be allergic. Leaders are constantly faced with the questions, “To what degree can people change? Will they follow my leadership?” If people cannot change, then leadership has no future. Most leaders in history particularly business leaders, I assert, have been Level One leaders that targeted human behavior only. If we are to understand the nature of leadership and its ability to impact humans, we must understand the relationship between our genetic tendencies and our nurtured view of the world. And as we grow and age, the interplay between our genetic endowment and our emerging personality traits begins to gel.
Solidifying the tendencies While much of the “drama” as Alice Miller calls it described above takes place in the first
three months to three years of life, the early tendencies, some say, tend to gel or “set” sometime in the first decade of life. Morris Massey6 hypothesized that “what you were when you were ten years old” pretty much determined the basic values of your life that would shape your behavior. By then, the basic answers to the five questions above have been repeated SO many times that one has come to understand the world in terms of those answers. A personal example may help to explain. My father grew up in the great depression in the 1930’s. His family grew vegetables in a small plot of vacant ground to have food to eat. Later in life, though, he made a small fortune building large motor hotels out west in Idaho. When we would go to visit him as adults, his idea of taking us out to dinner was “all you can eat for $4.99.” Even though he enough to eat at any restaurant in the city without blinking an eye, he could not let go of this “core value” imbued upon his personality in those early formative years. Perhaps you have observed this kind of behavior in your own extended family where a person hangs on to values that seem to have been “imprinted” about age ten or earlier yet no longer seem relevant to the present situation.
5 Nigel Nicholson, “How Hardwired is Human Behavior?” Harvard Business Review (July-August, 1998): 135
(Reprint 98406). See also, Executive Instinct (New York: Crown Business, 2000). 6 Morris Massey, The People Puzzle (Reston, VA: Reston, 1979).
This same phenomenon is commonly portrayed in the popular press by references to
Generation This or Generation That (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, etc.) The hypothesis is that the current generation (however difficult it is to define when one begins and another ends) has some common core tendencies that we, business and political leaders, should be aware of. To the extent that broad societal influences can imprint themselves on young, (about ten years old) impressionable minds, there may be some truth to these portrayals. This raises the question of how, if at all, can we begin to “see” categories of humans and how they might be influenced by leadership. When we think about why people behave the way they do, we might note at least seven levels of similarity and dissimilarity.
1. Humanity. There are some universally human characteristics. In addition to our DNA, our bodily shapes, and the fundamentals of breathing, drinking, eating, and reproducing, (all very strong instincts by the way), there are other characteristics that seem to mark all people: humor, smiling, laughing, socializing, playing, and so on. William Glasser postulated that we all have five basic needs: survival, love and inclusion, power, freedom and fun.7
2. Regional culture. There are ways that Scandinavians, for instance, are different from
Norther Europeans in predictable patterns, and ways that Latin Americans are different from North Americans.
3. National Culture. In addition, people from similar “nations” have learned over the years
to behave in some similar ways. Norwegians do things one way while Swedes have chosen another; Mexicans can be differentiated clearly from Colombians in some ways.
4. Sub-National Culture. Inside of most nations there are regional units of similarity that differentiate from other sub-national regions. In the U.S., for example, Southerners do things differently than Northerners or Westerners, for example.
5. Organizational Culture. Corporations also develop cultures. The predictable ways that
employees of one company behave can often be contrasted with the predictable ways that employees of other companies behave.
6. Family Culture: Regardless of where you live, your behavior is surely influenced by
your family upbringing and principles. Some people litter while others don’t, for example, largely based on their familial training.
7 William Glasser, Choice Theory (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).
There are ways that every human is like every other human and ways that every human is unlike every other human.
7. Individuality. We know from studies of twins, that even with the same genetic endowment and environmental upbringing, people will vary, will differentiate themselves. There are some unique features about each person.
Leaders must take into account all of these levels of similarity and dissimilarity, whether one is opening a new plant overseas or trying to motivate an underperforming employee to do better. There are ways in which we can treat all humans the same way, yet, there are ways that we must treat every individual differently–whether an employee in our own company or a business associate from another nation or global region. Every human being has a familial and a personal heritage that shapes what he or she says and does. Sorting out the differences and similarities along these seven levels becomes a leadership dilemma. Can I influence every Saudi the same way? Can I treat every Southerner the same way–and expect strong followership behavior? Can I assume that all humans will work for money? Or for praise–and hope to get their best efforts? Unfortunately, many would-be leaders assume that their own set of values mirror those of others and they fall back on their own view of the world in their attempts to lead and influence others. This is, in my view, one of the most persistent problems in leadership roles, worldwide. This assumption, and others related to it, fall into the category of assumptions we make about how to lead and manage others. These assumptions, like the genes in Nicholson’s view of executive instinct above, are passed down from generation to generation much like genes.. These “mental genes” have been called “memes.”8 Wise leaders will understand their “memetic endowment” as much as their genetic endowments.
Memes Memes are the ideas and beliefs that people develop and pass on to others over time.
Memes are a mental analog to biological genes. Memes, like genes, are passed on from generation to generation and reproduce themselves, sometimes with mutations, in the lives of others. Sometimes these memes, ideas that seem to have a life of their own, spread wildly, other times they gradually die out. In this, memes are like viruses, they reproduce until their environment is no longer hospitable and then they die.9 “Waste not, want not” is a meme that developed during economically difficult times. “Never touch a person with your left hand” is a meme that spawned in nomadic nations without modern hygiene facilities. The “stirrup” is a meme that was born, spread, and ultimately changed the whole face of the global political and military power structure.10
Memes are the mental building blocks (complementing the genetic physical building blocks) upon which we erect our behavior. We are quite aware of some of our memes. Other memes are so common and essential to us that they are invisible to us, like water to fish swimming in a tank. Ideas that we take for granted, electricity for one, were unknown for much of human history. These ideas were born, propagated, refined, and passed on to successive generations.
8 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976). 9 “The Power of Memes,” Susan Blackmore, Scientific American, Vol 283, No 4 (October 2000): 52-61. 10 Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, New York, Norton, 1999.
There are at least three kinds of memes: memes of distinction, strategy, and association. Distinction memes allow us to name things. “California” is a distinction meme. There is no line on the desert or mountain ground that shows where California begins and Nevada ends, yet we carry around with us the idea of “California.” “Lift weights and you’ll get stronger” is a strategy meme. These are the “if-then” statements that we carry around about action–result linkages. “Thinner is better” is an association meme. Here, we apply a judgmental value to a distinction meme; we recognize the difference between fat and thin and make a judgment about which is preferable.11
One of the fundamental challenges in life and especially in leadership is to become more aware of our personal memes and to decide, as adults, those we will perpetuate and those we will work to eradicate, in ourselves and in our progeny, and in our associates and subordinates. If we do not undertake this reflective reexamination, we live our lives as little more than riders on spear-tips thrown by previous generations, perpetuating their thoughts, their beliefs, their assumptions about the way the world is and ought to be. To consciously transcend our memetic endowment, in ways that we cannot do with our genetic endowment, is the mark of a truly mature adult and of a visionary leader.12 Memes, conscious and sub-conscious, guide our behavior and shape our motivations, but unless we see and examine them, we are not architects of our own lives, much less the lives of others; we’re rather mere executors of the blueprints of previous generations. Most leaders, however, take a decidedly simpler view of human motivation. Motivation
The vanilla leader’s view of motivation generally includes two ideas–rewards and punishments. We hold a “carrot” out in front of somebody and expect that he or she will move ahead in order to get the carrot. If that doesn’t work, then we stand behind and beat their backside with a whip. If that doesn’t work, we often throw our hands up in dismay and exclaim, “I just don’t know how to get this person moving!” As Harry Levinson13 pointed out when we use the carrot- and-stick model of motivating others, what we really mean, given the image of what stands in between the carrot and the whip, is, “I just don’t know how to get this jackass moving.” But we deceive ourselves if we conclude that people are, like jackasses, necessarily unmotivated, lazy, stupid, or stubborn just because they won’t do what seems so eminently rational to us.
One reason that the reward/punishment model does not always explain human behavior well is that one person’s reward may be another person’s punishment. When we extend the same carrot to everyone in the organization, only those who value that reward will respond. When we use the same whips (threats) on everyone in the organization, not everyone responds. Clearly, a person’s values will greatly influence the effectiveness of any particular carrot or stick. If the person doesn’t value the carrot or fear the stick, he or she is not likely to respond to its use. Expectancy Theory gives us a partial answer to this question in that it suggests that people are motivated to do things
11 Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind (Seattle: Integral Press, 1996). 12 Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, The Evolving Self, op cit. 13 Harry Levinson, The Great Jackass Fallacy (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1973).
that they expect they can do and when they can expect to receive a reward that they value, but are not motivated if they do not value the reward.14
Many leaders say that we should not concern ourselves with what goes on inside a person since we cannot observe it nor manage it. These are followers of B. F. Skinner, who first outlined the notion of behavior modification.15 Since thoughts, feelings, and values cannot be seen, they argue, they cannot be managed, or if so, only poorly. People who attempt to understand or explain such unobservable things are thought to be charlatans and speculators. Rather, they say, managers should focus on the external behavior, and then try to shape that behavior by rewarding the desired behavior and punishing the undesirable behavior. In one management seminar I attended, the instructor suggested that managers should not be managing people but rather the inputs and outputs to people, making sure that the desirable outputs were being rewarded and the undesirable outputs were being ignored or punished. This was clearly the behavioral approach.
My experience has been that most people who change jobs or leave corporations or withdraw from involvement in their work/organizations do so in large measure because their talents, interests, and abilities are being ignored and wasted. They see large gaps between who they are, what they want to be and can become, and what the organization asks of them. To me, the suggestion that managers should focus on the outputs rather than the people who create them is to further this alienation from organizational life and productivity–as suggested by the quote opening this chapter.
This view of humans as merely resources continues the corporate tendency to dehumanize
the work experience—and perpetuates a meme that says, “people are homogeneous, predictable, replaceable parts.” Frederick Taylor and others who subscribed to scientific management principles perpetuated this meme in the world.16 People have proven to be much more complex than the principles of simple reward and punishment would suggest. And yet, again, most managers seem to subscribe to this common meme, that as managers they are in control of their associates’ behavior.
This “control theory” meme has been clarified by William Glasser.17 Many people subscribe, perhaps unwittingly, to control theory when they believe a) that they respond to external stimuli (rather than choosing to respond or not), b) that they can make other people do what they want them to, and c) that it is their right or responsibility to reward or punish others depending on whether they do what one wants them to or not. This meme cluster carries with it many dysfunctional consequences including the central one of narrowing drastically one’s range of choices in the world. We do not answer the phone because it rings (the first assumption above), rather we answer it because we choose to. Others do not make us angry when they do not do what we say (the second assumption), rather we choose to be angry.
14 David A. Nadler and Edward E. Lawler III, “Motivation: a Diagnostic Approach,” in J. R. Hackman and E. E.
Lawler,ed, Perspectives on Behavior in Organizations (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977). 15 B. F. Skinner, op cit. 16 Frederick Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York, Dover, 1998). 17 William Glasser, Choice Theory, op cit.
When we lose sight of our own volition in selecting and responding to external stimuli by virtue of the memes within us, our range of options narrows and we become pawns in the chess game of life. When this happens, we begin to lose our intrinsic motivation. Wise people recognize that all of our behavior is chosen–and leaders create more choices for people.
Glasser has also pointed out that there are four ways of behaving: 1) activity (what we say and do), 2) thinking, 3) feeling, and 4) physiology (our bodily reactions and chemistry). “Total Behavior” therefore is comprised of all four components. The key point, he argued, is that we all choose how we behave in each arena, including the emotional one. If a loved one dies, for example, most people would say that we have no choice but to be depressed. Glasser points out that “depressing” is a choice, too. With a different perspective, we might find contentment, peace, and even harmony at this time. Glasser clarified the insight of the Roman stoic philosophers: it’s not events that affect people, rather it’s the view that people take of those events that affects them. Events do not control us, really, neither do other people. We allow them to control us and our reactions.
The truth is, we choose our responses to the world. Understanding this deeply is enormously freeing for most people. We can only do so rationally, though, if we become aware of our memes, our personality holes, and exercising courage, begin to pick and choose which ones we would like to retain and utilize. In that, we become freer, more autonomous, and more authentic. When others encourage that in us, we thrive. And there’s the lesson for leaders to be: finding ways to support the autonomy of others engenders powerful followership while persisting in the core beliefs of control theory weakens our ability to influence others. The Rational-Emotive Model
What we need is a model of human behavior that will take into account genetic and memetic endowments and our nurtured tendencies to help to explain why people behave the way they do and give us some practical tools to begin thinking about how to work with, how to communicate with, and how to lead others. This approach implies a model that recognizes thoughts and feelings along with behavior. The work of Albert Ellis18 and other “rational emotive” researchers provides such a foundation. The Rational-Emotive-Behavior Model (REB) shown in Figure 1 builds on Ellis’s work and provides practicing managers a way of digging deeper, of getting below the surface of human behavior, of understanding human behavior and its motivations and of leading more effectively. The REB model includes several elements: events and our perceptions of them, values and assumptions we have about the way the world “should” be, conclusions or judgments about the present situation, feelings, and behavior (“activity” in Glasser’s terms).
18 Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper, A Guide to Rational Living (Hollywood, CA: Melvin Powers Wilshire Book
The truth is, we choose our responses to the world.
Figure 1. The Rational-Emotive Behavior (REB) Mode Events
To paraphrase the common street meme, “things happen.” People speak to us. Or don’t.
Doors open. Or close. We get feedback on our behavior. Or we don’t. All of these things are “events”. We observe some of them, while others we ignore or don’t see. What we see when we observe makes a big difference–as we’ve already suggested in our definition of the Leadership Point of View. Our understanding of science, especially particle physics, even suggests that how we observe can even change what we see. Studies of light have shown that depending on how you structure the experiment/observation, light appears either as matter or as energy. More commonly, two people watching the same event may very well come away with different perceptions and conclusions. We can see what people do and hear what they say. How we interpret those events makes a big difference in our behavior. This is in part because what a camera and microphone might capture may not be the same as what we perceive.
Perceptions and Observations Observations and perceptions are not the same thing. An observation, as we use it here,
means simply what would be visible to an impersonal, unemotional camera’s eye. An observation is a description as opposed to a judgment. An observation would be, “John came in at 8:15 today.” A perception on the other hand is a subset of what we might observe; it is what is left to our awareness after we’ve filtered out whatever it is that we filter out. Maybe we didn’t notice what time John came it today at all. Maybe we didn’t notice whether John was even at work today. So while a
camera might record, without filtering, a series of events, we are constantly filtering and selecting what we will “see” or perceive. Whatever it is that comes in through our perceptual filters is what we “see” even though it may be a small part of what “happened.”
VABEs When we observe something, we immediately compare that event with our personal set of
Values, Assumptions, Beliefs and Expectations (VABEs) about the way the world should be. If there is a gap between what we observe and what we expect, we have a problem. If there is no gap, things are as they should be and we carry on without concern. VABEs are the beliefs we hold about the way the world should be or the way other people should behave. We can even have VABEs about our own behavior–and consequently judge ourselves by them. These “shoulds” and “oughts” make up our value systems. When we say that a person should do this or should do that, we are expressing one of our VABEs.
Our VABEs develop early and over many years as outlined above. We learn them from our
parents, our friends, our teachers, and our experiences. Proponents of Transactional Analysis call them our parental tapes or “scripts,” the little messages that remind us of what our parents told us was right and wrong.19 Our VABEs include more than just what others have taught us, however; they also include our own conclusions about the way the world and the people in it operate.
For instance, one person watching the
people around him work diligently to further their own fortunes might conclude, “People are greedy.” If this person continues to see this kind of behavior generally, he might begin to hold this as a relatively central assumption about why people behave the way they do. This assumption would be even further solidified if the person behaved that way himself. Figure 2 lists examples of some common assumptions. Clearly, widely held VABEs will vary from culture to culture along the seven categories introduced earlier in this chapter. Some of these examples may seem “normal” to you, others may seem “foreign.” That will depend on your culture, your upbringing, and your current set of VABEs.
The major thesis of this book is that an
understanding of VABEs and how they shape behavior is essential to effective leadership.
19 For example, Eric Berne, Games People Play (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964).
Some Common VABES Always cross at the crosswalk. Submit your will to that of the group. The next life is more important than this one. There is no next life. Kindness is good. Kindness is foolish. You can’t trust a . A good father would have . Always obey the boss. Question authority. People should give their best efforts to the company. People should save their best efforts for their personal lives. If you want it done right, do it yourself. If you want it done right, find the right team. Professional people should wear suits and ties. You should always call your boss by his/her name. Never give a sucker an even break. Always give the boss what he/she wants. (Write in one or two that comes to mind for you here.)
Some call this “values based leadership.”20 If you can understand a person’s constellation of VABEs, you will have a much deeper understanding about why they behave the way they do. VABEs have some characteristics that are important to remember.
1. VABEs vary in strength. Some of our basic beliefs are very important to us. These we put
at the core of our personalities. We all try to protect our core assumptions very carefully. Peripheral assumptions, the ones that are less important to us, are more easily changed than the core assumptions. Figure 2 shows a simple diagram depicting the concept that core VABEs are the ones that are likely to shape our behavior more powerfully than those at the periphery.
2. VABEs vary considerably from person to person. Although one person may believe that “a
person should clean up her plate after dinner,” the next person may not believe that at all. Surely there are some broadly held societal values and assumptions that many in a culture will share. In fact, this is how we define a culture at one of the seven levels listed above. But if you accept the notion that assumptions vary from person to person, then it follows that, in order to understand why a person behaves the way he or she does, you have to understand something about that person’s assumptions, not just about your own or about what you think the culture’s are. This points out what some authors have called the “arrogance” of the Golden Rule: why should we expect that others want to be treated the way we want to be treated? They argue that the Platinum Rule would be “treat others as they want to be treated.” This is something that our race, the human race, has not been very good at since the beginning of recorded history.
3. People have VABEs both about the way other people should behave (the external view) and
about the way they themselves should behave (the internal view). Humans have a unique capacity to judge themselves. We can not only observe the behavior of others, we can observe our own behavior. We have developed VABEs that describe a “good” self. This internal perspective of our VABEs we might call the ideal self. Our Ideal Self is our vision of how we “should” be. Some parts of this ideal self are more important than other parts. The important parts we defend vigorously.
Inside us all, hidden from view, are vast arrays of connected values, assumptions, beliefs and
expectations. Some we hold strongly; some we exchange for others rather readily depending on the evidence and where we got them. Some we use to judge external events, and some we use to judge ourselves. And, if we are wise, we will notice that our own VABEs do not necessary match the VABEs of the person sitting next to us. Becoming aware of this opens a huge door of fascination and inquiry in life as we wonder, “why does that person behave the way he or she does?” and, “How might I best influence him/her?” Part of the answer lies in the connection between the observed event and one’s VABEs.
20 Gilbert W. Fairholm, Values Leadership (New York: Praeger, 1991).
Figure 2. Centrality of VABES and Their Impact on Behavior
The key to understanding why people behave the way they do is in the comparison of what they see and what they believe ought to be, the comparison between one’s perceptions and one’s VABEs. It is not events that take place around us that determine what we do; rather, it is the comparison we make between what takes place around us and our personal, basic assumptions about what ought to be taking place that motivates our activity.
Consider a simple example. Suppose that you and a friend are playing golf together. You both hit off the tee, and you both drive into the woods. You believe that, given who you are and your skill, you should not drive out of bounds. You compare your perception of what you have just done, drove into the woods, and realize that there is a gap between the two. This gap is disturbing. At this point, another of your basic assumptions comes into play, for you believe that it is not becoming to a professional person to throw a temper tantrum, so you stifle your curse, work hard to control yourself, and keep the anger in. Yet you experience anger; your face may even grow flush. But you keep silent in order to maintain some vestige of control. Your friend, on the other hand, compares his basic assumption, “We all make mistakes. No one is perfect all the time, especially in golf” with his perception of his errant drive and walks calmly off the tee trying to figure out what he did wrong. The events were the same, but the experiencing and the behavior were not. The comparison of similar events with different personal assumptions generated different behavior.
When we see something, we immediately, in a nanosecond, compare it with our VABEs. This comparison yields a number of options. If what we observe matches our expectations, then all is right with the world, and we go on. If there’s a mismatch between what we expect to see and what we see, then we have a problem. We can ignore the gap (between what we saw and what we expected to see) and go on as if nothing had occurred. We can fret and stew about the event and try to change it. Or we can reflect on our underlying VABE and consider changing it to match our observations. In this way, we are all scientists. In any event, in the fraction of a second that it takes
to do this comparison, we reach to a conclusion. These are the judgments we make about the situation, the people, ourselves. If, for instance, we see our friend shoot a 110 in golf, and we assume that “a good golfer always shoots 75 or under,” then we are likely to conclude that our friend is a poor golfer. That is a judgment that we make about him, a conclusion.
Sometimes we “jump to conclusions”—that is, conclude something quickly that may not be warranted by the evidence. One reason for this is that we tend to project our own meanings onto situations.21 Naturally, we project meanings that grow out of our own experience and our own assumptions about the way the world operates. This is where the old saying “what Peter says about Paul tells you more about Peter than about Paul” comes from. This tendency to project our own meanings on the world highlights again the usefulness of learning more about our assumptions and the assumptions of others. When a person “jumps to conclusions,” we can learn, if we are attentive, more about that person’s basic assumptions, and this will help us greatly in our attempts to manage our relationship with that person.
Humans also have the capacity to observe and judge themselves. We can call the observations we make about ourselves our self-image. We make self-judgments or conclusions, by comparing what we believe we should be with what we see ourselves doing, that we are good fathers, good golfers, poor drivers, terrible poets, and so on. These conclusions can affect our behavior in a number of ways. We may become so convinced that we are or are not something that we stop trying to do anything differently. For example, we may assume that, “People who are good at something are good at it on the first try.” If we try something and perform poorly, we may never try it again–and this could be a significant loss for ourselves and others. These “self-fulfilling prophecies” represent an internally directed, negative Pygmalion Effect.22 And our conclusions, external or internal, often cause powerful emotions within us. Figure 4 shows the relationship between these external and internal conclusions in the REB Model. Feelings
Whether our conclusions are internal (about ourselves) or external (about others), they tend to generate emotions. If we believe that people should tell the truth and we observe a person lying, we conclude that this person is a liar and we become “angry.” If we believe we should be kind and we then observe ourselves ignoring a homeless person in the street, we may conclude that we are not as kind as we “should” be and we feel “guilt.” The next person, believing that people “should” make their own luck, might pass by the homeless person and feel nothing. Clearly, emotions are a big part of human behavior.
When our conclusions reflect a match between our observations and our assumptions, we
usually experience the positive feelings–happiness, contentment, satisfaction, pride. When our
21 Berger and Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Anchor Books, 1967). 22 Sterling Livingston, Pygmalion in Management, op. cit.
observations violate or disconfirm our assumptions about either others or ourselves, we conclude that “things” or “we” are not “right,” or we tend to experience the negative feelings–sadness, discontent, anger, jealousy, disappointment. To an interested observer or would-be leader, these feelings open windows of understanding into the question of why people behave the way they do.
Often, what we observe in others is their emotionally laden behavior. The REB Model gives us a way of working backward to infer the underlying VABE or VABEs that must be in place for a particular event to have produced a particular emotional reaction. In this way the REB Model structures an equation with one missing variable: the VABE that underlies emotional behavior. If we can understand all of the parts of this comparison dynamic—that is, the observations (what did you see?), the VABEs (what do you believe?), the conclusions (what conclusion do you draw from that?), and the feelings (how does that make you feel?)—we can begin to understand why a person does what he or she does.
Since as the Skinnerians noted, it is not easy to see what people are thinking or feeling, we have to be alert to detect the signals that others give us about themselves. When we see a person who is obviously angry and we know what event triggered that anger, we can begin to infer what his or her underlying assumption might be. Usually, if a person is angry, his VABEs are contrary to the current event. If we care enough, and can listen well enough,23 the person may even be willing to tell us outright what the underlying VABE was that triggered their feelings.
Often, though, people are only vaguely aware of their VABEs so that they cannot describe
their own Event + VABE Conclusion Emotion Behavior equation. They may be unclear about an assumption and, therefore, may be unclear about why they feel what they are feeling. In fact, if your experience is like mine, many people are quite unaware of their feelings period. For simple issues, talking with a person may begin to reveal to both of you what the underlying assumptions and conclusions and emotions are. For more difficult issues, it may take someone more qualified, such as a psychologist or a counselor, to help understand the source of the feelings. When we can identify accurately the underlying assumption which, in comparison with an observation, caused a conclusion which generated a feeling, we will have a major insight into why people behave the way they do.
Behavior Behavior is another result of the comparisons we make between events and our VABEs. Behavior is as we’re using it here simply what people say and do. It is that which we or a camera can observe. This includes what people say, their gestures, their facial expressions, and their eye movements, as well as their major motor movements such as walking and running. When we see the
23 The skill of active or reflective listening is a big help here. It provides a means of enlarging the window onto
a person’s VABEs.
THE REB MODEL and the MISSING VARIABLE Event + VABE Conclusion Emotions Behavior
behavior of another, we reach conclusions about whether the person is behaving appropriately. In other words, the behavior of others becomes an event for us. The word appropriately implies that we have a judgmental filter (our VABEs) that determines what is appropriate and what is not. In trying to understand and influence others, if we ignore what lies behind their behavior, we ignore a powerful tool for understanding and working with that person.
The REB Model: Understanding Human Behavior
External Our beliefs about the way the world or people in it SHOULD or OUGHT to be. Our core values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations (VABEs)
External What we “see.” Descriptions of the people, events, and things we see.
Internal Our VABEs about how we think WE should be. Our “ideal self.”
Internal What we see about ourselves. The things we see ourselves doing. Our “self-image.”
MECHANISMS The various ways in which we try to protect and enhance our self- concept.
The decisions, judgments, and attributions we make about others. Internal
The decisions, judgments, and attributions we make about ourselves.
FEELINGS The emotions we experience related to the conclusions we reach. If our observations match our VABEs, we have generally positive emotions. If our observations don’t match our VABEs, we tend to have negative emotions.
BEHAVIOR What people do. Not what we think or feel, only what we SAY and DO as caught on camera.
An REB Example
With the basic elements of the REB Model in place, let’s try an example to see how it works to explain why people behave the way they do. Consider this short episode:
George was coming out of the company’s headquarters with an important guest when he saw Bill, one of his peer’s subordinates and clearly in a hurry, on his way out. As he passed through the lobby, Bill cursed at the receptionist for not having his taxi waiting and stormed out the front door. George’s client turned to George and remarked, “He’s an interesting duck. How many more like him do you have around here?”
It’s a small incident, one of hundreds we live through each day. If you were in George’s shoes, what would you do? Before you read on, think about it for a moment and decide what you would do or say. Interestingly, most groups will give a variety of answers, including:
1. Laugh it off and do nothing.
2. Go see Bill the next day and chew him out for behaving unprofessionally.
3. Chase Bill and demand an apology.
4. Go see Bill’s boss the next day and demand that he reprimand Bill.
5. Offer an explanation to the guest. (What explanation would you offer?)Reply, “Oh, he’s not one of ours, I can assure you.”
6. Wait for a while to see if Bill will come to apologize. If not, go see him.
Perhaps you would do something even different from this list. Where does all this variety of response come from? After all, it was the same, single incident. Well, if we use the REB model, we can begin to understand what is going on behind each of these alternative action plans. We first list the behavior and then try to infer, logically, what the underlying VABE must be in order for that behavior to have emerged.
Inferred VABE Laugh it off and do nothing.
Cursing at secretaries is no big deal and important people understand this.
Go see Bill the next day and chew him out for behaving unprofessionally
You shouldn’t reprimand your people in front of clients, and cursing at secretaries is unprofessional and unacceptable.
Chase Bill and demand an apology
You should reprimand people on the spot to have real results.
Go see Bill’s boss the next day and demand that he reprimand Bill
Only a boss should reprimand a person.
Offer an explanation to the guest. (What explanation would you offer?)
Others, including clients, demand an explanation of poor behavior.
Reply, “Oh, he’s not one of ours, I can assure you.”
Lying to cover up one’s shortcomings is an acceptable way to maintain “face” or reputation.
Wait for a while to see if Bill will come to apologize. If not, go see him.
Most people recognize when they do bad things and if you leave them alone they will rectify the situation. We should give a person a chance to do well.
You can see that these VABEs are quite different and with some variation could “mutate”
from person to person. The challenge is not to force people to all have the same VABEs; rather, from a leader’s point of view, one wants to understand the VABEs of those he or she works with.
The point is not so much which action plan is right. All of the behavioral alternatives above are right for the person who believes the VABE that leads to them. Rather, the challenge is first to be able to describe this linkage between Event + VABE Conclusion Emotion Behavior. We can call this linkage the “meaning chain” because it lays out the essential links between an event and a person’s behavior. Meaning chains are like the value chains we use in strategic analysis. One must work to identify the chain and to assess the characteristics of each link. This is especially true if we are trying to influence someone. Pausing to tease out another person’s meaning chain does not require you to become a psychologist, but it does ask you to be more careful about judging why people behave the way they do. REB and Leading Change If we try to change a person’s behavior by looking only at the behavior, we are guessing. For example, if you offer a subordinate more money (a carrot) when he increases his sales, you are assuming that your subordinate wants more money strongly enough to change his behavior to get it. This is often true, but a person can only use so much money. And, believe it or not, some people value working relationships, the challenge of the work, the variety involved, and other features of their work more than they do the monetary compensations it brings. In fact, a series of studies have shown that people in general lose motivation when they are paid to do something.24 This is evident in the common reality that volunteer organizations regularly have much higher levels of motivation and commitment than for-profit institutions.