What would you do?

What would you do?


Recently I sat in a train. Two girlfriends came in with their four children, three girls and a boy, all approximately seven years. The little girls sat together and examined full enthusiasm their purchases. The girlfriends chatted about their wonderfull day. The little boy sat a while on the bench and looked around him. At some moment he stood up, climbed on the bench and started to jump. His mother reacted immediately:  `No, Henry, stop! You are not allowed to do so!’ I heard she draw Henry down. The girlfriends chatted further as if nothing had happened.

Henry started jump on the bench again. His mother warned him again. He sat down, but a few moments later he jumped again. His mother called once again that he had to stop. This time he did not react. His mother said angry:  `Henry, I already said three times: Do not jump on the bench! This is a warning. And you know what happens if you get three warnings!

I sat breathless and waited. What would happen after three warnings?

`I will call daddy!’ she spoke resolutely.

This everyday example shows how easy we reward undesirable behavior and how we punish desirable behavior. At the start of the journey, Henry sat quietly on the couch. His mother, her friend and the little girls were all doing their thing. According to what happened next, Henry sitting quietly on the bench was desired behavior for his mother. But she did not reward his behavior, she ignored his behavior completely. Why would he keep up this good behavior?

As soon as he started to jump on the bench, behavior his mother did not desire, she mother reacted. What a reward: Henry got attention! The more he jumped, the more attention he got and immediately.

And the ultimate punishment? Mummy calls daddy! Daddy is not here. He cannot do anything at this moment. It will take a few hours before daddy can react. Perhaps mummy will forget to call daddy, because she has too much fun with her friend. Perhaps daddy will be too tired to get angry, when he finally comes home. Perhaps… so many things can happen in the meantime.

See what happens in all kinds of organizations:

  • Desirable and undesirable behavior are not specified. People react on the consequences they get from their behavior.
  • Desired behavior is often ignored: those people act as they should do, so they do not need attention. In fact showing desired behavior is punished.
  • Undesired behavior gets attention: from the manager, from colleagues and has to change with training, coaching and so on. So showing undesired behavior gives more reward than showing desired behavior.
  • Desired behavior, if it is rewarded, is often rewarded at the end of the year, when the connection between behavior and reward already has weakened.
  • Undesired behavior gets immediate reward, and almost always.

So, what would you do, if you worked in an organization that is managed like this? Exactly!


If you want to know more about behavioral analysis read the books of Aubrey Daniels or, if you rather read Dutch: Het a,b,c van OBM, prestatieverbetering door gedragsverandering (you can order at stop@coachingcarrousel.com).

Geschreven door Francine ten Hoedt

Francine ten Hoedt

Francine ten Hoedt

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