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Why Do People Act the Way They Do: The Three Major Influences that Affect People’s Behavior

Why Do People Act the Way They Do, the Three Major Influences that Affect People’s Behavior

Expert in human behavior insights, Dr. Rick Brinkman reveals what influences behavior and how it leads people to act the way they do.

In another blog post we explored the Lens of Understanding which gives you insight as to why people act the way they do, including Whining, Negativity, Tank attacks, Grenade tantrums, Snipers, Know-it-Alls, Think-They-Know-it-Alls and passive behaviors like Yes people, Maybe people and Nothing people.

The more you understand what motivates people, the greater the positive influence you can have over them.

People move around the Lens of Understanding changing behaviors like clothing based on two critical factors: “Context”, which is where we are and what’s going on, i.e. a business meeting. And “Relationship”, who we are with. Each of us comes wired with some tendencies as to where we go in the Lens depending on context and relationship. If a colleague attacks, you may stand up for yourself. If your boss attacks at a meeting you may be more passive but have a more assertive response if you were one on one with your boss.

In addition to context and relationship I have observed three other major influences that push people to different areas of the Lens. They are:

  1. Job function
  2. Organizational culture
  3. The people around us

Let’s discuss job function. I noticed over the years that whenever I would act out whining on stage, professional nurses found it funnier than any other group. One time at conference with 300 nurses I stopped in the middle of their laughter and told them what I had observed. Fifty of them, called out in unison, “That’s because we do that so much.”

If you look at their position in a hospital bureaucracy, they are often on the front line knowing what needs to be done but trumped by a Tank or Know-it-all doctor or limited by a bureaucracy. The result of that equation can be a feeling of being helpless. Helpless is the root of whining. (FYI, hopeless the root of negativity).

At a major aeronautics firm that designed planes, they had a multitude of engineers, who when on the job need to be in the Get it Right / Perfection area of the lens. But when people get too deep into perfection they can study things from now till the cows come home and never get it done. The organization learned to hire managers who are in the Get it Done / Controlling area of the Lens to make sure the project gets done on time. However, in their specific case it went too far because management by Tank attack was considered an acceptable leadership strategy that was rewarded and promoted.

Which brings us to a second major influence on behavior, the organizations culture.  The culture of an organization is essentially the behaviors, both good and bad, that are considered acceptable or forbidden.

When I regularly presented seminars for IBM’s New Leaders Series and talked about the Grenade tantrum, consistently half the IBM’ers in the room would say “I can’t imagine somebody doing that at work.” While the other half of the room would say, “Oh yes they do!”

The difference was the half but couldn’t imagine it were IBM’ers who were always at IBM. The half that said, “Yes they do”, were IBM’ers who were sent to someone else’s facility. They realized their corporate culture didn’t tolerate grenade tantrums. However, Tank (attack) and Know-it-all are born free as protected species.

I performed some programs for Chevron and people there told me they have a term called the “Chevron Yes”. What that means is you are pleasant and agreeable on the surface but that doesn’t mean you really agree or will follow through.

A software development firm I worked with realized they had hiring practices that brought them people who liked to be in the Get it Right and Get Along areas of the Lens when at work. This wasn’t the intent of how they hired, but a side effect.

However in the seminar, they had a huge “Aha” as a group. “No wonder we are one big happy family (Get Along) and we are very meticulous about our work (Get it Right).” But on the downside, they also realized that no wonder it was so hard to get a decision made in the company because everyone wanted to either study it in greater detail or wait for consensus.   On the first break some of these software engineers came up to me and started naming things that they created and did nothing with. Then a year later someone else brought it to market.

A third factor that influences behavior is the people around us. For example; Whining, Negativity and Sniping are virulent and spread like the flu through a team of people and before you know it everyone is doing it. Have you ever noticed how one department can develop an ongoing sniping relationship with another department? The other difficult behaviors do not replicate, but they still cause problems. Put one Know-it-all on a team of people and watch everyone else turn into Nothing people who won’t speak up or contribute at meetings.

You can empower yourself to have a positive influence on people when you:

  1. Recognize where people are behaviorally in the Lens of Understanding.
  2. Recognize the factors influencing behavior of context, relationship, job function, organizational culture and team members.
  3. Know the strategy to transform people’s behavior. Communication is like a phone number. You need all digits and you need them in the correct order.

For specific strategies for problem behaviors and contexts like meetings see the McGraw-Hill books:

Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, Meet Less and Do More

Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst

To download a free Lens of Understanding and see a live presentation of the Lens of Understanding in Dr. Brinkman’s trademark Educating through Entertainment style visit here.

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Why Do People Act the Way They Do, the Three Major Influences that Affect People’s Behavior

Dr. Rick Brinkman is the coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, which has been translated into 25 languages. His new book, Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, How to Meet Less and Do More is available now. He is a top keynote speaker and trainer on leadership, teamwork, customer service, effective meetings, difficult people, and managing multiple priorities.