Knowing from Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time
Doing the Right Thing is a book about people who work in offices, why we fight, and how we can stop fighting, solve our problems, and get back to work. All materials on this site Copyright © Marianne Powers 2002. All rights reserved.    Home    Back    Next

Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time

Full Book Outline:

---People Are What They Are and It's Irrelevant Anyway
---We Don't Know What Other People Are Capable of Achieving
---People Are Not Accountable for Their Thoughts and Feelings
---We Don't Know What Other People are Thinking and Feeling
---People Are Accountable for Their Words and Actions
---Assume Everyone is Doing the Best They Can
---Assume Everyone Has a Good Reason for What They Say and Do

---Listen Very Carefully
---Welcome Information, Criticism is Information
---If You Have a Choice, Don't Choose to be Hurt
---Examine Your Motives
---Targeting Problems is Good, Targeting People is Evil
---If You Want Someone to Do Something for You, You Have to Be Completely on Their Side
---When People Don't Understand, Listen Better

---State Your Position Clearly and Ask for What You Want Specifically
---Tell Them Even If You Know They Won't Understand
---All You Can Do is Tell Them, You Can't Make Anyone Do Anything
---When People Don't Meet Your Expectations, Change Your Expectations
---Give Them 100 Tries to Get It Right
---If They Can't Get It Right in 100 Tries, There Must Be Something Wrong with the Procedure
---Teach Everyone to Do Everything

We Don't Know What Other People Are Capable of Achieving
I read once about a tribe that believes that if you know a thing’s true name, you have power over it. They never tell anyone their true name. They all have another name that they use in public. In some ways, I think they are right. If you know an animal’s scientific name, for example, you can get a lot of information on it. You can find out where it lives, what it eats, and its expected lifespan, how to trap and kill it or how to help it flourish. If you know a plant’s scientific name, you can find out if it is nutritious or poisonous and how to get it to grow or wipe it out. When you know what something is called, you can find out anything that anybody has ever found out and written about it, not just what you are able to observe yourself, so you do have more information.

Similarly, we seem to want to classify other people, in order to know what to expect from them and how to “handle” them. We spend some amount of time figuring them out, listening to them and observing them, and then we put them in a box with the other people that seem to be like them. We decide, “He’s nice,” and expect him to be nice all the time. We decide, ”She’s stupid,” and don’t expect anything intelligent to come out of her. We even classify ourselves, so that other people know what to expect from us (or what we want them to think we are doing). We say, “I’m a hard worker” or “I’m very loyal,” hoping that they will put us in a good box.

There are two problems with classifying people. The first is that we are often so very bad at it. It takes a lifetime for a person to become what they are, and most of us never stop “becoming”. Yet one person might try to classify another after being introduced and shaking their hand. I have known people who were proud of their ability to size people up instantly. Of course, they always turned out to be right about the person. I was always amazed, because I didn’t have that ability myself – I was slow, it usually took me a few days to figure someone out.

Now, I don’t believe that they really knew all about the other person in a few seconds, any more than I did in a few days. But I believe that in a few seconds, or a few days, we had made our decision and assigned the other person to a box. We treated them then like we treated everyone else in that box, and they acted like everyone else in that box, or so it seemed to us.

In reality, hardly anyone is “nice” all the time. And almost everyone says or does something “stupid” sometime. What seems like very bad judgment could be a lack of experience, easily overcome with time. People do learn. People do grow. And, more than that, they put things together and have epiphanies and suddenly become brilliant! Even if we could figure someone else out in less than a lifetime, people don’t really fit in neat boxes. If we pay attention, we can see that they are constantly getting out of the boxes they are put in. If we haven’t seen them doing it, it might just be that the sides of our boxes are too high for us to get a good look!

I found myself in a box one time. I could clearly see that it was a box that someone else had put me in and not one I had jumped in myself. I could see that it had little to do with me and what I was really capable of and had everything to do with what someone else said I was capable of.

After a while, it came to me that this man didn’t know me better than I knew myself. There was just no way that he could. He was talking about “people like me”. He had put me in some category of people in his own mind -- people good with computers, people who don’t know much about people, people without any training in counseling or teamwork, people who wouldn’t know how to get a group of other people to talk to each other and figure out how to work together to get a job done. But he was wrong about me, I didn’t belong in that box. Because my life has been different than “people like me” and, as it happens, I do have that ability! So, I told him so and then I proved it.

I know that I have put people in boxes, too, and put a lid on them and nailed them down and painted numbers on them and color-coded them! In fact, the first thing I always wanted to do when I met someone was figure out what box they belonged in, so I would know how to relate to them. I can’t honestly say that I have been able to stop doing that completely. But now, if I put people in boxes at all, they are boxes with low sides and no tops that they can decorate however they choose, and they can step right out of them easily anytime. I am ready for people to act differently than I thought they would act or than they have acted in the past or than “people like them” act.

The second problem is that classifying something also limits your expectations of it. Once you know it’s a slug, you know it can’t dance. Even if it seems to be dancing, you know it’s an illusion, because slugs can’t dance. You can’t teach a slug to dance either, because it is not capable of it. (But, then again, have you ever seen a Hexabranchus sanguineus?)

People should never be limited by their “classification”. They can speak for themselves. People can tell you what they think they are capable of and what they are willing to try to do. Even when deciding what their physical capabilities are, you have to ask people if they can do something instead of looking at them and deciding for yourself, and, in the workplace at least, you are required by law to do so. It is just as true that you should not decide that someone can’t do something because you don’t think they have the intelligence or the will or the personality for it. You have to ask.

Being able to predict what other people will do is useful to us. But sometimes we carry it too far. In order to really know someone, we would probably have had to live with them their whole lives and experienced everything they’ve experienced. We can’t do that, so we try to take a shortcut by putting people in a category with other people we have known or even people we’ve imagined to be “like them”. But, we really don’t know most other people very well. Each person knows himself best. When we want to know what other people are capable of achieving, we need to give them the opportunity, get out of their way, and pay attention, or ask them!

Next Section: Peope Are Not Accountable for Their Thoughts and Feelings

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