What does a cute kitty video have to do with performance improvement?
I ran across a sweet, but unusual video from the BBC’s YouTube collection. Apparently a cat that had just given birth discovered some ducklings that had just hatched and adopted them as her own. (Rather than having them for lunch.) In their turn, they imprinted on her.
The story is a bit longer and has some suspense to it, so even though I’ve spoiled the ending, I’ve included the video itself below. It’s quite charming and not at all like the “cute kitty” amateur offerings you might have been subjected to in the past.
The reason I thought it was something for a performance and productivity blog is simple: one of the big takeaways from the story is that if the right circumstances occur, the most exceptional things can happen.
Much psychological and business literature is devoted to subjects like “creating change,” “finding the right perspective,” “motivating right action,” and just plain “getting things done.” So stories like this one make me ask what I can do to create circumstances that overcome natural or learned resistances and even instinctual responses. What circumstances are necessary to allow learning and growth? What timing, environment, people, training or other factors will I need to achieve a goal?
This video literally shows us that change, growth, progress and even miracles occur when we make sure that we have all our ducks in a row. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Enjoy the video.
There is an inspiring and sentimental story I’ve heard and read. It’s commonly used by speakers and preachers, and I’m not sure it’s completely true. But I’m going to tell it anyway.
The Story of Annie
In the late 1870’s, a young girl, known to most as “Annie” was living in an almshouse, which also served as a mental hospital. Annie was half-blind, subject to fits of anger and was being kept in a cage to keep her from harming herself and others. She could also take notions of ignoring the presence of others and refusing to communicate or follow any instructions. She lived in dark and filth.
An old nurse had a fondness for Annie. She saw some spark in her. And she knew how hard life had been for her. So she took to visiting Annie each day at lunch. She’d talk to Annie about mundane things, just the usual makings of conversation. Annie would apparently ignore her. Undeterred, she came back day after day.
One day, the old nurse left a brownie outside the girl’s cage. The girl ignored it, but when the nurse came back the next day, the brownie was gone. So, each day after that, the nurse would leave a brownie.
After a while, the staff started noticing changes in Annie. Within a few months, Annie was released from the cage a changed person. More communicative, cooperative, in control.
What is particularly poignant about the story is that the girl in question was Anne Sullivan, who went on to become a teacher of the blind and to mentor Helen Keller.
The Point of the Story: Small Actions Lead to Big Changes
This story has been used to make a variety of points. The point I want to use it for is what it says about change.
I’m writing this article just after the turn of the new year. This is a time when many have made great promises about the great changes they have resolved to make during the coming year. (Most of the resolutions are about weight loss, but that’s a different story.)
Change doesn’t happen in huge chunks. Annie wouldn’t have been better changed by a plate of a dozen brownies once a week. Big change happens with consistent repetitions of small changes. And the right changes. At the right time.
By “small changes,” I mean “small actions.” Change is an active process.
Also remember that the brownies were not the only small changes. Everything started with the nurse consistently, patiently using her lunch time to visit Annie. Giving the girl evidence of being cared for every single day.
Make Small, Action-Oriented Resolutions and You’ll Be Successful
If you want to make changes in yourself, start with some small activity that, combined with other activities, will eventually lead to the larger change.
If you want, for example, to lose weight, you might start by finding out how many calories you eat each day and limit yourself to 200 calories less. So, if you eat 2500 calories a day now, you could just limit yourself to 2300 until you are comfortable with that.
As another example, if you want to be a good time manager, but you live pretty chaotically now, you could start by learning to write down one — just one — item you want to remember to do each day. You wouldn’t start by trying to keep a full-fledged to do list.
Change is hard. You don’t start from being like a caged animal and jump right to going to graduate school.
You’re probably eager to get on with your New Year’s resolutions. Just remember to start from where you are now.
This technique is for people directly involved in a conflict, not their managers, employees or business partners. It only works for those who actually have the power to end the conflict.
The Three Things You Have To Realize
1. Conflict isn’t about the facts, it’s about the feelings. If you are in conflict, you feel that you have been cheated, betrayed, victimized, helpless (disempowered), unfairly blamed, abandoned, unjustly penalized, ignored, marginalized, discriminated against or whatever. And you feel angry. Perhaps you feel hurt.
2. Most conflict is petty. It just doesn’t feel petty to the people involved. That is to say, the actual facts or cause of the feelings behind the conflict are petty. Most of the time, the causes of conflict are repeated annoyances by people who can’t get away from one another.
Conflicts usually involve things like offices mates who constantly talk too much or too loudly on the phone while you try to work. Or people who drop into your office or cubicle to whine and complain and waste your time. Or people who manipulate things so you end up doing their work. Or people who gossip about you. People who tell lies about you. Bosses who don’t back you or support you. Bosses who don’t listen when you report issues that affect your work. Bosses who ignore your expert advice, which you were hired to give them. Or senseless office rules that interfere with your work or your ability to perform your best.
Sure, there are plenty of things that happen that are serious. And you need to deal with those, too. But most the most common conflict you find at work is in the nature of what psychologists call simple “ego injuries.” You feel hurt and angry because something bothersome is going on that you can’t control and it makes you feel powerless and unimportant.
3. The person who controls his emotions wins the conflict. Because ending the conflict is winning. If you take charge of your emotions you take the power in the conflict. Regardless of rank, status or relative strength.
The Two Things You Have To Do
1. Refuse engagement or disengage from conflict — let it go. The conflict can only remain if both parties contend. You can let it go if you accept this one simple fact as truth: no matter what you do you cannot directly change (or fix) another person or another person’s behavior. (It also helps to realize that you can’t change his mind, beliefs or feelings, either. At least not directly.)
The conflict is about your trying to change someone else or his/her behavior. By some sort of force. That person is resisting. He thinks he’s right. He knows he’s right. He feels he’s right. It’s like trying to change someone’s religion or politics. Can’t be done.
But think about it for a moment. You, too, think you are right and that the other person is wrong. He can’t change you either. The real conflict in a conflict is each side trying to force the other to do something he doesn’t want to do. It doesn’t have to do with who’s right or wrong. It doesn’t even have to do with who is stronger. It has to do with how you get and use power. And the only real power to change is the power you use to control your own feelings and behavior.
You can change how you look at what is happening and change what you do. You can stop struggling to get the other person to change.
You can start doing things that make the other party have to change in response to your behavior. Or you can do something that makes his behavior irrelevant. For example, if the person is constantly annoying you with noise, you can simply ignore him and wear headphones with noise cancellation or earplugs.
Sure, he’s an inconsiderate pig. So what? Your real solution is to stop the noise, not reform the pig. You can go directly for the end result you want through your own power rather than through trying to force a solution on someone over whom you have no power.
2. Explore and plan for resolution of the underlying dispute — even if only you, all by yourself, work out the plan and create the outcome. Once you have accepted that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, you can get clear on how to solve your problem without involving the other party in the solution.
If you choose to disengage from conflict, the conflict is over. Almost instantly. Seemingly magically. And it reveals to you that, all along, you had the power you had to get what you really needed.
The following two YouTube videos have different perspectives and different issues involved in workplace conflict.
Depersonalizing Petty Personality Issues.
This video by Ed Trimnell is addressed to someone who is rather new to the workplace, but it works for anyone:
4 Magic Phrases.
This video by Daniel O’Connor of Power Diversity takes on the issue of how to respond to negativity in workplace communication. It’s both entertaining and helpful.