UNDERSTANDING HUMAN NATURE

Unique though we all are in our individual ways, there remains this thing called HUMAN NATURE.  Specifically, the vast majority of we humans tend to behave in rather predictable ways confronted with similar situations, especially the need to adjust to and accept change.  And if you are one of those who believes that the laws of human nature do not apply to you, remember I used the word majority.

I have long believed that the very best managers either intuitively are or rapidly become astute students of human nature, because they understand the contribution such wisdom can make to their managerial success.  If you can predict in advance how folks entrusted to your managerial skills will react to some change you are about to announce or implement, you will be better prepared to respect their right to a human response and start to think creatively about your role in helping them adjust.

Now there are tomes of scholarly and non-scholarly works on the subjects of human nature and change. Relax, I do not wish to cover them in any substantial way.  Rather I offer only three thoughts regarding predictable human behavior — specifically when it comes to change of any kind — that may help enhance your predictive powers and mitigation strategy thinking.

1.  Emotionally, all change large or small involves some loss and it is in our nature to mourn and lament these losses at some level, before full acceptance becomes possible.  As the author of some change, what you see from those effected may differ from person to person but in the aggregate it will look like resistance.  Moreover, the speed with which each individual comes round to embrace the change will vary.

To deny individuals some time to make that adjustment is disrespectful.  But to let it go on indefinitely is bad management.  You must make the judgement call regarding when it is time to move on.  Helping folks work through their feelings regarding the change always helps and demonstrates your respect and human understanding.  It also helps to gradually assist others to see what gains the change represents, not just what is to be lost.

2.  It is in our nature to test whether a change is real and whether someone means what they say.  We begin exercising this inherent testing process early in our lives.

During a recent visit with our daughter and her family, I had the opportunity to witness “human nature” in all its glory.  The situation involved our daughter and son-in-law’s son Max — now almost 2 years old — and his mother.  Max is the proud owner of a wooden train set and it is a dandy.  Train engine, train cars, tracks, bridges, buildings, etc.  But a little destructiveness and it can easily become a jumble.  Occasionally Max has a mind to get a little rough with it and this day his dad and mom had both told him emphatically NO!  So here was Max and his mother locked in a test of wills as I stood by and tried hard not to laugh; the outcome seemed all to obvious to me an experienced parent.

With their eyes locked in on each other, Max pushed the train engine forward with some vigor disrupting a few tracks and mom articulated a firm no.  Another push by Max and an even more emphatic no.  Now had Max understood the “three strikes and your out rule”, he might have quit at this point.  However, one last vigorous push and mom was on her feet to begin parts collection and there secreting away.  Max, for his part, had burst into sobs and tears having realized that this time no actually did mean no.

 So, count on it.  Try to change something and some, if not all, of those effected will test its permanence.   Think of it as a negotiation process designed to test your will, flexibility and to find out whatever there is any wiggle room in the change’s implementation. That is all Max was doing; a form of two-year old negotiation.  Anticipating the test helps you prepare an appropriate response; one that reinforces the message that indeed this change is real and must eventually be accepted  by all.

3.  Lack of accountability for continued resistance, sabotage, or passive aggression authorizes them all.  Try as you might to help others adjust to the demands of change, there are those whose resistance often seems to know no bounds.  Eventually there is only one appropriate response to such continued behavior.  That is to exercise the appropriate accountability.

Failure to sanction excessive resistance or sabotage not only authorizes its continuation but suggests its efficacy to others.  And enough unsanctioned resistance is often sufficient to undermine almost any change initiative.  Unfortunately, it is all too human to take advantage of such authorization.

Conversely, appropriately sanctioned resistance sends a powerful message that the time has come for making peace with the change and to move on with the adjustments required.  Fortunately, it is also in our nature for most of us to learn from the consequences of pushing too far.

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