Did you hear me? Yes you did, but you are reading it.
It’s an old trick. We have said this of kids so many times. The moment you say something, that will be enough to do the opposite (Rules of Teenager Management, book in search of an author). ‘The spirit of contradiction’, my French grandmother used to tell me, and she said it in French, which sounded a lot more serious.
But there is more to it. At the very least it shows that simple behaviours can trigger unintended ones. Some prompts, verbal or visual, have some special power to trigger either behaviours or simply feelings. In the case of behaviours, some fall into the category of what I call microbehaviours: a smile, frowning, a nod, a sight. They are all more powerful than words. There is a disproportion between the signal input and the reaction.
My colleague Jayne Lewis brought this quote to our team meeting recently” “An idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a joke or worried to death by a frown on the right person’s brow” (Charles Brower)
Many people would not be conscious of this ‘disproportionate power’.
If ‘Don’t read this’ makes you read, then some laws of rationality go out of the window. The modern, and still largely untapped by leaders, field of Behavioural Economics, is full of irrational behaviours that we do exhibit every single day. The UK Government set up a long time ago a rather ill-thought out ‘Nudge Unit’ with the idea of triggering behaviours in the population: health, taxes, other fields.
And as for feelings, hospitals and airports are full of posters saying ‘Abuse will not be tolerated’. I have no idea what these good (threatening) intentions do to avoid abuse. I wish somebody could show me, but, in my mind, they are not worth their printing. What they do, for sure, is to trigger in your mind the idea that ‘this is a place of abuse’. They must be abusing places, otherwise nobody would have bothered with the posters. The threatening posters may reinforce the possibility of abuse. Or at least, they have the unintended consequences of labelling an environment as negative. Now consider the (incredible logical from a behavioural perspective) alternative: ‘Thanks for being so kind to us. We are working hard for you here’. Tell me what comes to your mind about the character of that place.
Human behaviour is complex. Any good manager and leader need to be educated on this. Nobody would accept a Finance manager who can’t read a P&L. But there are plenty of people managers who run on ‘folk-psychology’ mode, not understanding how human behaviour really works
Now, don’t read any of my other Daily Thoughts. They are not really interesting. Seriously.