A study conducted
by Gary Latham PhD, replaced 12 words in an e-mail from a company president to his
employees to demonstrate the power of word choice.
Half of the company received the president’s original e-mail and half of the company received the same e-mail with 12 achievement-focused words added in. The result? After a week, objectively measured performance showed an increase in effectiveness by 15% and efficiency by 35% for the employees who received the achievement centric email.
Priming, in relation to human behavior, is the idea that exposure to an external stimulus can subconsciously trigger our brains to drive specific behaviors.
A study in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” examined how a simple word could prime the brain to think differently in a similar situation. Subjects were exposed to one of two words and then shown the letters “SO_P” and asked to fill in the blank.
People who were exposed to the word “eat” prior to the exercise were more likely to fill in the letter “U” (SOUP), and those exposed to the word “shower” were more like to fill in the letter “A” (SOAP).
In this situation, the first word they were exposed to impacted their interpretation of the blank letter and completed word. This is a simple example, but priming can also cause us to unconsciously engage in behaviors both good and bad.
Have you ever experienced a company with a culture so powerful that you notice it immediately? There is a positive tone in the conversation, a joyful way in which people interact, a different feeling that you get walking through the door.
Those companies are rare.
It is more likely you’ve experienced a company with a culture that is toxic. One where the tone of the conversation is so negative that it instantly brings you down, were the interactions between employees seem hostile, and where you would like to run out the door shortly after entering.
If we were robots, then when we are underperforming or not working, a simple diagnostic process would show us where the issue is. We would need to determine if it was a hardware or software issue, work through the bugs, and identify the component issues. It might be hard, but it is a structured process that a sound engineer can handle. And in the end, you know when you get it right because the issue is solved.
But we are not robots. We are human.
We are complex, context-driven, emotional, overstressed, and irrational. We often tell people what we think they want to hear, not what we really feel. We tend to avoid conflict and repress our feelings. Hell, we don’t even understand our feelings a lot of the time.
Would being able to understand the underlying reasons why you and others “do the things you do” be helpful to you in your job? Is there value in having the knowledge to be able to predict and understand people’s responses to your requests or changes? How about being able to anticipate how people will most likely respond in a given situation or environment? Would the ability to make more rational and sound decisions help you in moving your business forward?
people, that answer is “yes.”
Most of us
work in an environment that involves some level of involvement and interaction with
other people. Whether it be coworkers, bosses, employees, vendors, or customers
– at some point in your workday, there is likely a human involved.
How you interact with those humans can change how they respond.
We need to
be able to work effectively with those humans. If we can understand and
empathize with their underlying drives, decipher how they are interpreting our
words and actions, and anticipate how they will respond to what we do, our
interactions with them will be significantly improved.
Fall 2019 Update: We recorded an in depth podcast with AMGA Ski Guide and Avalanche expert Chris Brown on this same subject – check it out here!
An exploration into the human factors and heuristics that lead to avalanche incidents and our recommendations on: (1) how to overcome them and (2) how to improve how avalanche education courses teach them.
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