Excellence vs. Fear

My husband is dealing with various people at work–both client companies and co-workers–whose behavior is perplexing to him. He sort of leans on me to understand such things, rather like I lean on him to understand many technical things. He understands how to deal with machines, but my former career as a safety manager was all about knowing how to deal with people. I had to know how to motivate people who did not want to work safely or those I was responsible for would get hurt or killed. So I, a person with what were originally abysmal people skills, learned how. And I tried to use my powers for good.

Because I knew that behavioral techniques were powerful. My father proved that for me.

Many moons ago my father, a teacher, was taking a sabbatical at UCONN. He took a course on behavioral science, and was the ringleader in an experiment that they perpetrated on the teacher. Now you would think that a professor who taught behavioral manipulation would be onto them, and see right through what they pulled, but no. Every time he went near the windows, the students looked attentive and smiled. Every time the teacher went away from the windows they looked away and frowned. By the end of the semester they had him sitting on the windowsills. He actually had a body part OUTSIDE of the window before he caught on! That’s how powerful behavioral techniques can be.

My father walked away from that class muttering about how dangerous behavioral modification was. Who gets to play god? But when I was a safety manager, once I knew what a person wanted, all I had to do was be their ally and help them get it, which they would do while helping me meet my safety goals.

I had no problem using behavioral science to help save lives, but thought it wrong to use to get my way otherwise. Early on in our marriage, I vowed to my husband that I would never, ever use behavioral techniques on him. Instead, I would teach him what I knew, in case he was being manipulated, or to use to defend himself.

Recently, my husband had a co-worker whose demands and view of things seemed very warped and hard for him to understand. I listened and sighed. His co-worker was fear motivated. Now, fear-motivated people are some of the easiest people in the world to manipulate (just look at how politicians use fear!) and I was going to show him how to make this co-worker easier to live with, but my husband said, Wait a minute. Full stop. What do you mean, fear motivated?

Part of the reason I love this man is that, like me, my husband is excellence¬†motivated. He just enjoys doing a good job. He fixes mechanical things; I fix words and stories. It had never occurred to him that people could be driven by anything else but excellence. He was rocked back on his heels at the thought. Once he got over that, I showed him how to allay the fearful co-worker’s concerns. And it all fell into place.

You see, fear-motivated people usually have not taken control of their own lives. They feel battered and abused like flotsam pushed about by a storm. Anyone would be naturally fearful if they felt they were nothing but a victim, unable to change anything about their situation. But when a man or a woman stops waiting for someone else to make them happy–romantically, financially, or in any other way–they gain power over their own destiny and those who alternately promise things or threaten them become less important. An excellence-motivated person’s self-worth is not tied up in anything they cannot control, because their focus becomes changing the things they can change. So being excellence motivated makes it very hard for others to manipulate you. And that’s a good thing.

Rather than being upset with this co-worker for the constant barrage of complaints and anger, I showed my husband what he needed to defuse the situation was to keep this person in the loop, so that they were never surprised. The fear-based person could not understand why he was doing certain preventative maintenance things because they felt pressured by their bosses and overwhelmed. Anything he could do to help this person see that he was there to lessen their fear would solve his problem. And once their fears were assuaged he could maybe help them see that pursuing excellence is power. It’s power over fear, first and foremost.

Maybe this person will want to learn, and if so I’ll show him how to teach them excellence. Frankly, it’s more fun.