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Look for the good in people

Those of you who manage others and have first-hand experience of difficult behaviours in some of those you manage, may find the following thought provoking ‘take’ on perception a challenge in itself!

There’s a very old quotation that says ‘If you treat an individual as they are, they’ll stay as they are. But if you treat them how you want them to be or could be, perhaps they will become that.’

In my experience, what we look for in people is most likely what we’ll find. If we are given a member of staff and told they are particularly difficult then human nature probably means that we look for all the behaviours about which we have been warned. This naturally excludes other more helpful traits and attributes.

Transactional Analysis suggests ‘What we stroke is what we get!’, because we all need attention says Berne, the founder of this school of thought (and by the way he calls attention ‘strokes’). We adopt behaviours, helpful or otherwise to gain attention. So as managers, teachers, leaders, colleagues, parents and friends we need to concentrate on what we want from others rather than verbalise and give attention to how they interact with us unhelpfully. A challenge? Just a bit!

Suggest to others in specific behavioural terms what we would appreciate from them and reward it as soon as possible. If they do respond helpfully and we don’t acknowledge it they will revert to the old behaviour which they have learnt is always guaranteed to give them the attention they need. Ask any parent who wants their child to tidy their room!

Huge implications to how feedback is given, I think you would agree? Rather than a vague” I feel it would help if you were less aggressive with x……,” to stating ‘how much better would your job be if you had a better relationship with x…? ’ and then ask them what specific behaviour they feel would be more constructive. In this way, they would start to generate strokes for themselves in a more constructive way.

Difficult behaviour takes a disproportionate amount of our emotional energy and time whatever context we’re in. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s worth a try.

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