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WHY PEOPLE BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO

To be autonomous means to act in accord with one’s self—it means feeling free
and volitional in one’s actions. When autonomous, people are fully willing to do
what they are doing, and they embrace the activity with a sense of interest and
commitment. Their actions emanate from their true sense of self, so they are being
authentic. In contrast, to be controlled means to act because one is being
pressured. When controlled, people act without a sense of personal endorsement.
Their behavior is not an expression of the self, for the self has been subjugated to
the controls. In this condition, people can reasonably be described as alienated.
—Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do
Leaders influence people. Unless leaders understand why people behave the way they do,
their efforts to influence others will have random, perhaps unpredictable, even alienating effects.
You might try to influence someone and get just the opposite effect that you expected. Perhaps
you have been trying to get subordinates to do something at work, and no matter what you do,
they just won’t respond. Or maybe your boss has been asking you to do something, and you
resist. If you’ve ever asked yourself as a leader or a colleague, “Now why did he do that?”
you’ve wrestled with this problem. At home, at work, or at play, you have no doubt observed
people doing things that seemed—to you—unexpected or unusual. You may have seen two
people in very similar situations respond in very different ways. These examples raise the
question: Why do people behave the way they do? This note will introduce some fundamentals
about what motivates people and under what conditions they will give their best efforts and then
offer a summary framework that has proven pragmatic and powerful for leaders in a variety of
situations.
Some people resist this conversation by saying that you are being asked to be
psychologists rather than leaders. There is a difference. Both leaders and psychologists have
to know something about human behavior, and both encourage change. Leaders who resist
understanding human behavior focus at a very superficial level of behavior and simply
command, “Do this!” or “Do that!” At the other extreme, many psychologists and
psychiatrists try to understand the very building blocks of a person’s personality, delving into
This technical note was written by James Clawson, Professor of Business Administration. Copyright © 2001 by the
University of Virginia Darden School Foundation, Charlottesville, VA. All rights reserved. To order copies, send an
e-mail to sales@dardenpublishing.com. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
used in a spreadsheet or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording
or otherwise without the permission of the Darden Foundation. ◊

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significant and perhaps distant historical events. Our target lies in between—effective leaders
understand why the people they are trying to influence behave the way they do. Since mere
compliance with commands is no longer an effective mindset (getting workers to do grudgingly
and “good enough” will no longer set you apart from the competition), effective leaders’ mental
models of leadership must go beyond giving orders and assuming compliance for monetary
rewards. On the other hand, leaders do not necessarily have to understand where a person’s
personality or psyche comes from but only what his or her motivations are in the given situation.
Ignorance of the fundamentals of human behavior leaves one with a limited set of generic
influence models that may or may not have impact on any particular individual. Deeper
understanding provides more options and gives one more potential tools—and makes one a more
powerful leader.

The Beginnings
For the first nine months of existence, human fetuses are an integral part of another
human being. Whatever preliminary awareness there may be of life, it is enveloped entirely
inside another. When we are born, we begin a three- to six-month process of becoming simply
aware of our individuality, that we are separate, that we are no longer totally encased in the
identity of another human being. As this emerging awareness dawns on us, at least five
fundamental “questions” arise. These are not conscious questions in the sense of our thinking
about them; rather they represent issues that must be resolved one way or another. Their answers
begin to shape our sense of individuality, our sense of our place in the world, and our
fundamental stance in it. These questions include:
1. When I’m cold, am I made warm?
2. When I’m hungry, am I fed?
3. When I’m wet, am I made dry?
4. When I’m afraid, am I comforted?
5. When I’m alone, am I loved?
When those questions are answered affirmatively, we tend to feel (rather than think) that
we are cared for, that we have a place in the world, and that life, and more particularly, the key
people in it, are supportive, confirming, and comfortable. We begin to learn that while “we” are not
“they,” “they” are “good.” We begin to ascribe to the object of our attention—our parents—
attributes of caring, concern, and dependability, which we then generalize to other objects or
people in life.1 When those questions are answered negatively, in whole or in part, we tend to
develop feelings that we are not cared for (as much as we want/need), that we may not have a place
in the world (as much as we want/need), and that life and others in it are not supportive,
1

For more detail on object relations theory of human mental development see N. Gregory Hamilton, The Self
and the Ego in Psychotherapy (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996), and Jill Savege Scharff and David E.
Scharff, The Primer of Object Relations Theory (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1995).

This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School.
Use outside of this course is a copyright violation.

what she was working on. One day a student came to see me. interests. and goals. sometimes quite large. her mom or dad rewarded her with some attention when she made some achievement that pleased them. Even in the face of her own daughter’s milestone achievement. and began sobbing. and so on. When she needed comforting. shut the door. If the questions above are answered negatively too often. Unwittingly. Probably. Every time I’ve tried to talk to her about me. “What’s the problem?” She had called her mother and reported her success. did not get sufficient positive responses to the five fundamental questions above. she didn’t get enough of it. “You know. “mother” does not come. “Hmm. She came in. light. Sometimes they are small holes. her latest accomplishments. and water. too many negative responses to our inchoate but deeply felt needs may lead children to a feeling of uncertainty or even betrayal.” I said. If they are large enough. That meant that when she became a mother. with the very company she had always wanted to work for. they can persist. She learned that her checked-off-to-do list was more important to them than who she was. . it’s been that way my whole life. hobbies. Then this student said. afraid. It can become a big psychological dilemma for a person. When she needed loving. even our whole lives. These “holes” in our personalities can be very influential in our lives. We can observe elsewhere in adult life the behavioral result of these “holes” developed in infancy. wet. about our place in the world. warmth. even though supplied with more than enough shelter. sat down. no parent is able to be there all the time. By “holes” I mean uncertainties. Studies of chimpanzees in France showed that if a baby chimpanzee was left alone without motherly comfort. Of course. When you meet someone at a cocktail party and the entire conversation revolves around their life. when she was a child. Sometimes when we are cold. she “used” her infant to “love her” and to affirm her importance. In humans. especially if the negative responses outweigh the positive ones. I don’t. or comfortable (as much as we want/need). And the uncertainty of that leads us to begin to “question” the security of the world around us. Here’s an example. the baby eventually would die. it quickly turns to being about her!” This is an example of an apparent “emotional hole” in the mother’s psyche. or alone. perhaps even dominate our adult activities for decades. you might begin to wonder if they aren’t trying to fill in a This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. I asked. food.-3- UVA-OB-0183 confirming. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. affirmation. and within 15 seconds the conversation had turned to her mother’s charity work. she began searching for ways to “fill it in” through achievements. we begin to develop “holes” in our personalities. and that makes me angry with the very person who bore me. “What’s the matter?” She said that she had just gotten the job of her dreams. and comforting that she did not get as a child. she was driven to shift the conversation to her own early unfulfilled needs for attention and recognition. We might well expect that this mother. some of the time. With that hole inside her personality. she didn’t get it. hungry. The noted English psychologist Melanie Klein calls this the “good breast/bad breast” phenomenon: part of the time I get what I want. how many accolades she had received lately. even fears. trying to find ways later on to get the love. her child became another means of filling in those holes. the child—my student— did not get what she needed. making more money than she thought she could make. And in the process.

and move on by learning to accept ourselves and our right as human beings to take up space in the world. 2 Melanie Klein. The fundamental five questions mentioned above imply a sixth question that lingers throughout our lives: “How can I get other people to do what I want?” Depending on our developing personality and its holism or “hole-ism.4 However many achievements we may attain. by now a habitual behavior. marries. perhaps rather. Perhaps we learned early on that bullying worked most of the time or that pretending to be pitiful elicited the results we hoped for. she may not give her children what they need. 1964). she seeks to affirm her own identity in the world. “Don’t you love your Mother?” instead of “Mommy loves you. without realizing it. they will not fill in the holes left by parents who could not give what we needed during infancy. Hate and Reparation (New York: Norton. The problem is that we cannot fill in those holes later in life. grows up. Alice Miller. Now. Love. and a cause for sobbing. and unknowingly they are spending the rest of their lives trying to fill in that gap—to get the attention and affirmation that they did not get as a child. in turn. we have to come to terms with the “good breast/bad breast” dilemma and to reach a reparation of the conflict. The Drama of the Gifted Child (New York: Basic Books. 1997). finds it hollow. empty. 4 Gail Sheehy. of going from being totally and completely cared for to a world in which even those closest may be inconsistent in their love and caring. Perhaps we learned that by being the “best” at anything would get us the adoration we craved internally.”) and they. small or large. as does Gail Sheehy. a 30-year-old woman. Those and other strategies all have pros and cons associated with them. . perhaps grieving at the recognition. begin to develop holes because they are not getting what they needed as infants. however many buildings we may build. and has children. But we can recognize them and in that recognition begin to make a “necessary passage” to let go of the desire to fill the hole. by keeping the spotlight of attention on themselves.-4- UVA-OB-0183 hole. In Klein’s terms. Consequently. graduating from a well-known professional school. And so. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. 1984). Necessary Passages (New York: Bantam. Miller makes this point. seeking to get love and affection from them (perhaps manifest in language like. The attempt to do so is an unending source of frustration and emotional anguish. We can grieve over the fact that we didn’t get what we wanted and/or needed. But learned strategies for influencing others are not the end of the story. not getting what she wanted as a child. Why do people do this? Often it is because they did not get what they needed as a small infant. So my student’s mother. however many accolades and awards and prizes we may win. 3 This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. acknowledging that reality.” we tend to develop strategies for influencing others. Maybe you have had situations where you are in a conversation with a small group and another person comes up and somehow changes the topic of conversation (regardless of what the group was talking about) to their own agenda. to fill in those holes. Melanie Klein2 and Alice Miller3 describe this “gift” that parents give to their children. getting the job she’s always dreamed of for more money than she’d ever hoped for. and then move on. however much money we make. and that effort spills over into her mothering. the natural conflicts.

including the seemingly universal tendency to create hierarchies. have been Level One leaders who targeted human behavior only. the early tendencies tend to gel or “set” sometime in the first decade of life. It’s a difficult and interesting question. Yet any parent will tell you that children have innate and unique tendencies. Nigel Nicholson (London Business School) makes a case that many aspects of our human behavior. Perhaps you have observed that kind of behavior in your own extended family. his idea of taking us out to dinner was “all you can eat for $4. By then. If we are to understand the nature of leadership and its ability to impact humans. metabolism. 2000). described above. (July–August 1998):135. we will learn more about the proportion of our behavior that is “predetermined” by our genetic endowments. takes place in the first three months to three years of life. The People Puzzle (Reston. the basic answers to the five questions above have been repeated so many times that one has come to understand the world in terms of those answers.-5- UVA-OB-0183 Our genetic endowment The object relations theorists and child psychologists represented above present a largely “nurture” view. While much of the “drama. “How Hard-wired Is Human Behavior?” Harvard Business Review. Executive Instinct (New York: Crown Business. 1979). “To what degree can people change? Will they follow my leadership?” If people cannot change. and body shape. where a person hangs on to values that seem to have been “imprinted” about age 10 or earlier and yet no longer seem relevant to the present situation. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation.99. When we would go to visit him as adults. VA: Reston. autocratic leader to be kind and gentle than we can “teach” a person not to be allergic. he could not let go of this “core value” in his personality from those early formative years. Later in life he made a small fortune building large motor hotels in Idaho.” as Alice Miller calls it. 6 Morris Massey. we must understand the relationship between our genetic tendencies and our nurtured view of the world. for example. Morris Massey6 hypothesized that “what you were when you were ten years old” pretty much determined the basic values that would shape your behavior. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. is an inherited trait that is “hard-wired” into our DNA. particularly business leaders.5 As we have recently mapped the human genome and continue research on the impact of genes on our behavior. that we can no more “teach” a hard-nosed. as well as more fundamental species-specific instincts or drives such as breathing. His family grew vegetables in a small plot of vacant ground to have food to eat. then leadership has no future. My father grew up in the great depression in the 1930s. And as we grow and age. Most leaders in history.” Even though he had enough money to eat at any restaurant in the city without blinking an eye. See also. A personal example may help to explain. and socializing. but also biochemical balances and emotional tendencies. namely that people are born with a “blank slate” upon which the tendencies of their lives are written by parents. They include not only physical characteristics like eye and hair color. . and other forces around them. reproducing. eating and drinking. Clearly we have inherited a variety of characteristics from our parents. It may be. Reprint 98406. the interplay between our genetic endowment and our emerging personality traits begins to gel. 5 Nigel Nicholson. Leaders are constantly faced with the questions. friends.

are different from Northern Europeans in predictable patterns and ways that Latin Americans are different from North Americans. Norwegians do things one way and Swedes have chosen another. National culture: In addition. people from similar “nations” have learned over the years to behave in some similar ways. for example. For example. Individuality: We know from studies of twins that. our body shapes. 4. That raises the questions of: How (if at all) can we begin to “see” categories of humans? and How might they be influenced by leadership? When we think about why people behave the way they do. there are ways that we must treat every individual differently—whether an employee in our own company or a business associate from another nation or global region. power. largely based on their familial training. Generation X. Every human being has a familial and a personal heritage that shapes what he or she says and does. Generation Y. 1998). 5. There are ways in which we can treat all humans the same way. Mexicans can be differentiated clearly from Colombians in some ways. Choice Theory (New York: HarperCollins. Family culture: Regardless of where you live. there may be some truth to those portrayals. for example. 7. whether one is opening a new plant overseas or trying to motivate an underperforming employee to do better. The predictable ways that employees of one company behave can often be contrasted with the predictable ways that employees of other companies behave. Regional culture: There are ways that Scandinavians. Sorting out the differences and 7 William Glasser. 1. eating. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. Humankind: There are some universally human characteristics. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. there are other characteristics that seem to mark all people: humor. we might note at least seven levels of similarity and dissimilarity. William Glasser postulated that we all have five basic needs: survival. regional units of similarity differentiate themselves from other subnational regions. even with the same genetic endowment and environmental upbringing. Leaders must take into account all of those levels of similarity and dissimilarity. In the United States. To the extent that broad societal influences can imprint themselves on young impressionable minds. Subnational culture: Inside most nations. for instance. love and inclusion. drinking. some people litter while others don’t. and so on. your behavior is surely influenced by your family upbringing and principles. etc.) The hypothesis is that the current generation (however difficult it is to define when one begins and another ends) has some common core tendencies that we as business and political leaders should be aware of.-6- UVA-OB-0183 That same phenomenon is commonly portrayed in the popular press by references to Generation This or Generation That (Baby Boomers. Southerners do things differently from Northerners or Westerners. laughing. freedom. . 6. and the fundamentals of breathing. and fun. There are some unique features about each person.7 2. however. socializing. and reproducing (all very strong instincts). smiling. playing. In addition to our DNA. will differentiate themselves. people will vary. Organizational culture: Corporations also develop cultures. 3.

1999). refined. .” “Lift weights and you’ll get stronger” is a strategy meme.” Scientific American 283. propagated. Memes. spread wildly. “Never touch a person with your left hand” is a meme that was spawned in nomadic nations without modern hygiene facilities.10 Memes are the mental building blocks (complementing the genetic physical building blocks) upon which we erect our behavior. Germs. want not” is a meme that developed during economically difficult times. Those assumptions. In this. memes are like viruses: they reproduce until their environment is no longer hospitable and then they die. like water to fish swimming in a tank.”8 Wise leaders will understand their “memetic endowment” as much as their genetic endowments. followership behavior? Can I assume that all humans will work for money? Or for praise?—and hope to get their best efforts? Unfortunately. and passed on to successive generations. Other memes are so common and essential to us that they are invisible to us. There is no line on the desert or mountain ground that shows where California begins and Nevada ends. The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press. “Thinner is better” is an association meme. These ideas were born. Memes are a mental analog to biological genes. strategy. We are quite aware of some of our memes. sometimes with mutations. No. Here. Those “mental genes” have been called “memes.9 “Waste not. There are at least three kinds of memes: memes of distinction. 1976). The “stirrup” is a meme that was born. Distinction memes allow us to name things. in the lives of others. These are the “if–then” statements that we carry around about action–result linkages. and association. and others related to it. Susan Blackmore. other times they gradually die out.-7- UVA-OB-0183 similarities along those seven levels becomes a leadership dilemma. Sometimes these memes. That is. Ideas that we take for granted—electricity for one—were unknown for much of human history. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. like the genes in Nicholson’s view of executive instinct. worldwide. Guns. “The Power of Memes. “California” is a distinction meme. many would-be leaders assume that their own set of values mirrors those of others. fall into the category of assumptions we make about how to lead and manage others. like genes. 4 (October 2000): 52–61. 9 This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. and Steel (New York: Norton. in my view. Memes Memes are the ideas and beliefs that people develop and pass on to others over time. 10 Jared Diamond. yet we carry around with us the idea of “California. one of the most persistent problems in leadership roles. and ultimately changed the whole face of the global political and military power structure. are passed down from generation to generation much like genes. Can I influence every There are ways that every human is like Saudi the same way? Can I treat every every other human and ways that every Southerner the same way—and expect strong human is unlike every other human. we apply a judgmental value to a distinction 8 Richard Dawkins. are passed on from generation to generation and reproduce themselves. That assumption. and they fall back on their own view of the world in their attempts to lead and influence others. ideas that seem to have a life of their own. spread.

If that doesn’t work. lazy. If that doesn’t work. “Motivation: a Diagnostic Approach. When we extend the same carrot to everyone in the organization. “I just don’t know how to get this person moving!” As Harry Levinson13 pointed out: when we use the carrotand-stick model of motivating others. If we do not undertake that reflective reexamination.R. we recognize the difference between fat and thin and make a judgment about which is preferable. To consciously transcend one’s memetic endowment (in ways not possible with our genetic endowment) is the mark of a truly mature adult and of a visionary leader. Perspectives on Behavior in Organizations (New York: McGraw-Hill. we are not architects of our own lives but mere executors of the blueprints of previous generations. but they are not motivated if they do not value the reward.12 Because memes—both conscious and subconscious—guide our behavior and shape our motivations. Most leaders. Nadler and Edward E. If the person doesn’t value the carrot or fear the stick.” But we deceive ourselves if we conclude that people. One reason that the reward/punishment model does not always explain human behavior well is that one person’s reward may be another person’s punishment.” in J. The Great Jackass Fallacy (Boston: Harvard Business School Press. a person’s values will greatly influence the effectiveness of any particular carrot or stick. Virus of the Mind (Seattle: Integral Press. what we really mean (given the image of what stands in between the carrot and the whip) is “I just don’t know how to get this jackass moving. as adults. Clearly. The Evolving Self (New York: HarperCollins. or stubborn just because they won’t do what seems so eminently rational to us. not everyone responds.-8- UVA-OB-0183 meme. . take a decidedly simpler view of human motivation.E. 13 Harry Levinson. 1993). We hold a “carrot” out in front of somebody expecting that he or she will move ahead to get the carrot. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. like jackasses. unless we examine them. When we use the same whip (threat) on everyone in the organization. we often throw our hands up in dismay and exclaim. however. Lawler. which we will perpetuate and which we will work to eradicate in ourselves and in our progeny and in our associates and subordinates. Expectancy theory gives us a partial answer to this question by suggesting that people are motivated to do things that they expect they can do and when they can expect to receive a reward that they value. Hackman and E. 12 This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Motivation The vanilla leader’s view of motivation generally includes two ideas—rewards and punishments.11 One of the fundamental challenges in life and especially in leadership is to become more aware of our personal memes and to decide. we live our lives as little more than riders on spear-tips thrown by previous generations. 1996). then we stand behind and beat their backsides with a whip. perpetuating their thoughts. their beliefs. 1973). are necessarily unmotivated. their assumptions about the way the world is and ought to be. he or she is not likely to respond to its use.14 11 Richard Brodie. 1977). 14 David A. Lawler III. only those who value that reward will respond.

1998) (new edition). managers should focus on the external behavior and then try to shape that behavior by rewarding the desired behavior and punishing the undesirable behavior. what they want to be and can become. That “control theory” meme has been clarified by William Glasser. who first outlined the notion of behavior modification. 16 Frederick Taylor and others who subscribed to “scientific management” principles perpetuated this meme in the world. predictable. “People are homogeneous. our range of options narrows and we become pawns in the chess game of life. and (c) that it is their right or responsibility to reward or punish others. the suggestion that managers should focus on the outputs rather than the people who create them is to increase alienation from organizational life and productivity—as suggested by the quote opening this note. We do not answer the phone because it rings (the first assumption above). or at best. Rather. and values cannot be seen. they say. (b) that they can make other people do what they want them to.F. That was clearly the behavioral approach. To me. Others do not make us angry when they do not do what we say (the second assumption). interests.15 They argue that because thoughts. Skinner.”16 People have proven to be much more complex than the principles of simple reward and punishment would suggest. In a management seminar I once attended. 17 William Glasser. Skinner.F. they cannot be managed. The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Dover. 1991). rather we answer it because we choose to. They see large gaps between who they are. 15 They are followers of B. . only poorly. People who attempt to understand or explain such unobservable things are thought to be charlatans and speculators.F. the instructor suggested that managers should not be managing people but rather the inputs and outputs to people. Choice Theory (New York: HarperCollins. See Frederick Taylor. replaceable parts. When that happens. My experience has been that most people who change jobs or leave corporations or withdraw from involvement in their work/organizations do so in large measure because their talents. rather we choose to be angry. including the central one of drastically narrowing one’s range of choices in the world. and what the organization asks of them. to control theory when they believe (a) that they respond to external stimuli (rather than choosing to respond or not). That meme cluster carries with it many dysfunctional consequences. Skinner Foundation.-9- UVA-OB-0183 Many leaders say that we should not concern ourselves with what goes on inside a person since we cannot observe it nor manage it. and abilities are being ignored and wasted. See B. And yet most managers seem to subscribe to this common meme: that as managers they are in control of their associates’ behavior. making sure that the desirable outputs were being rewarded and the undesirable outputs were being ignored or punished. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. depending on whether they do what one wants them to or not. Wise people recognize that all behavior is chosen—and wise leaders create more choices for people. we begin to lose our intrinsic motivation.17 Many people subscribe. When we lose sight of our own volition in selecting and responding to external stimuli by virtue of the memes within us. The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis (Boston: B. That view of humans as merely resources continues the corporate tendency to dehumanize the work experience—and perpetuates a meme that says. 1998). feelings. perhaps unwittingly. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation.

we might find contentment. The truth is. “Total behavior” thus is comprised of all four components. feelings. When others encourage that in us. The key point. and (4) physiology (our bodily reactions and chemistry). We choose to allow them to control us and our reactions. Harper. conclusions or judgments about the present situation. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. for example. how to communicate with. and behavior (“activity” in Glasser’s terms). so as to understand them better and thus to lead them more effectively. If a loved one dies. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. and more authentic. (2) thinking. The work of Albert Ellis18 and other “rational emotive” researchers provides such a foundation. The truth is that we choose our responses to the world. we thrive. including the emotional one. (3) feeling. (Hollywood: Melvin Powers Wilshire Book Company. Events do not control us. 1997). most people would say that we have no choice but to be depressed. values and assumptions we have about the way the world “should” be. Glasser points out that “depressing” is a choice. really. The rational-emotive-behavior model (REB) shown in Figure 1 builds on Ellis’s work and provides practicing managers a way of going beyond the surface of people’s behavior. This approach implies a model that recognizes thoughts and feelings along with behavior. And there’s the lesson for leaders: to find ways to support the autonomy of others engenders powerful followership. With a different perspective. We can only do so rationally if we become aware of our memes and—exercising courage—begin to pick and choose which ones we would like to retain and utilize. A Guide to Rational Living. is that we all choose how we behave in each arena. whereas persisting in the core beliefs of control theory weakens our ability to influence others. he argued. more autonomous. we choose our responses to the world. and how to lead others. too.-10- UVA-OB-0183 Glasser also pointed out that there are four ways of “behaving”: (1) activity (what we say and do). 18 Albert Ellis and Robert A. Neither do other people. The REB Model What we need is a model of human behavior that will take into account genetic and memetic endowments and our nurtured tendencies that will explain why people behave the way they do and will give us some practical tools to begin thinking about how to work with. we become freer. peace. and even harmony at that time. The REB Model includes several elements: events and our perceptions of them. . Understanding that deeply is enormously freeing for most people. Glasser clarified the insight of the Roman stoic philosophers: it’s not events that affect people. of getting at their motivations. rather it’s the view that people take of those events that affects them. In doing that.

while others we ignore or don’t see. Perceptions and Observations. Whatever it is that comes in through our perceptual filters is what we “see. especially particle physics. More commonly. two people watching the same event may very well come away with different perceptions and conclusions. we have a problem. Or close. We get feedback on our behavior. “things happen. we are constantly filtering and selecting what we will “see” or perceive. “John came in at 8:15 today. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation.-11- UVA-OB-0183 Figure 1. even suggests that how we observe can even change what we see. Studies of light have shown that depending on how you structure the experiment/observation.” A perception. We can even have VABEs about our own behavior—and consequently judge ourselves by them. VABEs are the beliefs we hold about the way the world should be or the way other people should behave. as we use it here. Maybe we didn’t notice what time John came in today at all. on the other hand. assumptions. How we interpret those events makes a big difference in our behavior. We can see what people do and hear what they say. it is what is left to our awareness after we’ve filtered out whatever it is that we filter out. Maybe we didn’t notice whether John was even at work today. Or we don’t. An observation. we immediately compare that event with our personal set of values. light appears either as matter or as energy. The rational-emotive behavior (REB) model. Our understanding of science. unemotional camera’s eye. things are as they should be. These This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School.” VABEs When we observe something.” People speak to us. . If there is a gap between what we observe and what we expect. in part because what a camera and microphone might capture may not be the same as what we perceive. An observation is a description as opposed to a judgment. So while a camera might record. An observation would be. Events To paraphrase the common street meme. without filtering.” We observe some of them. What we see when we observe makes a big difference. Doors open.” even though it may be a small part of what “happened. and we carry on without concern. is a subset of what we might observe. means simply what would be visible to an impersonal. Or don’t. a series of events. Observations and perceptions are not the same thing. beliefs and expectations (VABEs) about the way the world should be. If there is no gap. All of those things are “events.

Some of these examples may seem “normal” to you. Kindness is foolish. widely held VABEs will vary from culture to culture along the seven categories introduced earlier in this chapter. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Fairholm. Question authority. Some of our basic beliefs are very important to us. Some call this “values-based leadership. Always cross at the crosswalk. our teachers. Always obey the boss. he might begin to hold this as a relatively central assumption about why people behave the way they do. Proponents of transactional analysis call them our parental tapes or “scripts”: the little messages that remind us of what our parents told us was right and wrong. These are at the core of our personalities. Never give a sucker an even break. find the right team. Peripheral assumptions. and your current set of VABEs. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. the ones that are less important to us. Submit your will to that of the group. our friends. Figure 2. do it yourself. There is no next life. 1991). Values Leadership. The next life is more important than this one. (New York: Praeger. A good father would have . VABEs vary in strength. People should give their best efforts to the company. 1964). are more easily changed 19 20 For example.” If this person continues to see this kind of behavior generally. When we say that a person should do this or should do that. We all try to protect our core assumptions very carefully. Professional people should wear suits and ties. Clearly. You can’t trust a . and our experiences. Figure 2 lists examples of some common assumptions.19 Our VABEs include more than just what others have taught us. Some common VABEs. (Write in one or two that come to mind for you here:) An understanding of VABEs and how they shape behavior is essential to effective leadership. Games People Play. You should always call your boss by his/her name. Our VABEs develop early and over many years as outlined above. Gilbert W. you will have a much deeper understanding about why he or she behaves a certain way. We learn them from our parents. Always clean your plate. Always give the boss what he/she wants. (New York: Ballantine.” That will depend on your culture. your upbringing. If you want it done right. 1. . Kindness is good.-12- UVA-OB-0183 “shoulds” and “oughts” make up our value systems. however. we are expressing one of our VABEs. For instance. If you want it done right. VABEs have some characteristics that are important to remember. “People are greedy. they also include our own conclusions about the way the world and the people in it operate. one person watching the people around him work diligently to further their own fortunes might conclude. People should save their best efforts for their personal lives. Eric Berne. This assumption would be even further solidified if the person behaved that way himself.”20 If you can understand a person’s constellation of VABEs. others may seem “foreign.

if we are wise. you have to understand something about that person’s assumptions. not just about your own or about what you think the culture’s are. Centrality of VABEs and their impact on behavior.-13- UVA-OB-0183 than the core assumptions. but we can also observe our own behavior. We can observe not only the behavior of others. “How might I best influence that person?” Part of the answer lies in the connection between the observed event and one’s VABEs. Some we hold strongly. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Humans have a unique capacity to judge themselves. beliefs and expectations. has not been very good at since the beginning of recorded history. some we exchange for others rather readily. VABEs vary considerably from person to person. we will notice that our own VABEs do not necessary match the VABEs of the person sitting next to us. People have VABEs both about the way other people should behave (the external view) and about the way they themselves should behave (the internal view). in order to understand why a person behaves the way he or she does. The important parts we defend vigorously. Figure 3 shows a simple diagram depicting the concept that core VABEs are more likely to shape our behavior in a powerful way than those at the periphery. 3. depending on the evidence and where we got them. hidden from view. the human race. But if you accept the notion that assumptions vary from person to person. Surely many in a culture will share some broadly held societal values and assumptions. Some we use to judge external events. Although one person may believe that “a person should clean up her plate after dinner. Figure 3. We have developed VABEs that describe a “good” self. Inside us all. Some parts of this ideal self are more important than other parts. assumptions. And.” the next person may not believe that at all. this is how we define a culture at one of the seven levels listed above. Our ideal self is our vision of how we “should” be. . CORE VALUES (VABEs) BEHAVIOR 2.” This is something that our race. Becoming aware of this opens a huge door of fascination and inquiry in life as we wonder. are vast arrays of connected values. This points out what some authors have called the “arrogance” of the Golden Rule: Why should we expect that others want to be treated the way we want to be treated? They argue that the Platinum Rule would be “treat others as they want to be treated. and some we use to judge ourselves. In fact. then it follows that. “Why does that person behave the way he/she does?” and. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. This internal perspective of our VABEs we might call the ideal self.

That tendency to project our own meanings onto the world highlights again the usefulness of learning more about our own assumptions and the assumptions of others. “We all make mistakes. a conclusion. for you believe that it is not becoming to a professional person to throw a temper tantrum. Yet you experience anger—your face may even grow flush. we see our friend shoot a 110 in golf. But you keep silent in order to maintain some vestige of control. we immediately—in a nanosecond—compare it with our VABEs. “What Peter says about Paul tells you more about Peter than about Paul.” then we are likely to conclude that our friend is a poor golfer. If what we observe matches our expectations. and you both drive into the woods. If. and keep the anger in. and we go on. we reach a conclusion. and we assume that “a good golfer always shoots 75 or under. given who you are and your skill. Sometimes we “jump to conclusions”—that is. When a person “jumps to conclusions. then we have a problem. work hard to control yourself. 1967). for instance. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. but the experiencing and the behavior were not. The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Anchor. ourselves. External conclusions. Suppose that you and a friend are playing golf together. in the fraction of a second that it takes to do this comparison. You compare your perception of what you have just done—driven into the woods—and realize that there is a gap between the two. In that way. the people. it is the comparison we make between what takes place around us and our personal. rather. so you stifle your curse. compares his basic assumption. This is where the old saying. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. more about that person’s basic assumptions. That gap is disturbing. Or we can reflect on our underlying VABE and consider changing it to match our observations. if we are attentive. You both hit off the tee. At that point. When we see something. Consider a simple example. especially in golf.” with his perception of his errant drive and walks calmly off the tee trying to figure out what he did wrong. It is not events that take place around us that determine what we do.” we can learn. The events were the same. You believe that.21 Naturally. you should not drive out of bounds. We can ignore the gap (between what we saw and what we expected to see) and go on as if nothing had occurred. No one is perfect all the time. If there’s a mismatch between what we expect to see and what we see. Your friend. another of your basic assumptions comes into play. These are the judgments we make about the situation. In any event. The comparison of similar events with different personal assumptions generated different behavior. One reason for that is that we tend to project our own meanings onto situations. We can fret and stew about the event and try to change it. . then all is right with the world. which will help us greatly in our attempts to manage our relationship with that person.” comes from. That is a judgment that we make about him.-14- UVA-OB-0183 Drawing conclusions The key to understanding why people behave the way they do is in the comparison of what they see and what they believe ought to be—the comparison between one’s perceptions and one’s VABEs. we project meanings that grow out of our own experience and our own assumptions about the way the world operates. on the other hand. 21 Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman. conclude something quickly that may not be warranted by the evidence. That comparison yields a number of options. basic assumptions about what ought to be taking place that motivates our activity. we are all scientists.

Often. . Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. the conclusions 22 Sterling Livingston. we may never try it again—and this could be a significant loss for ourselves and others. external or internal. then we conclude that this person is a liar and we become “angry. poor drivers. contentment. we may assume. we usually experience positive feelings—happiness. We can call the observations we make about ourselves our self-image. Figure 4 shows the relationship between these external and internal conclusions in the rational-emotive-behavior (REB) Model. discontent. pride. often cause powerful emotions within us. The REB Model and the missing variable.-15- UVA-OB-0183 Internal conclusions. good golfers. might pass the homeless person by and feel nothing. “People who are good at something are good at it on the first try. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. what we observe in others is their emotionally laden behavior.” If we try something and perform poorly. we conclude that “things” or “we” are not “right. anger.” If we believe we should be kind and we observe ourselves passing a homeless person by. disappointment. For example. Such “self-fulfilling prophecies” represent an internally directed. Event + VABE → Conclusion → Emotions → Behavior Emotions and feelings Whether our conclusions are internal (about ourselves) or external (about others).” The next person. When our conclusions reflect a match between our observations and our assumptions. we may conclude that we are not as kind as we “should” be and we feel “guilt. satisfaction. negative Pygmalion Effect. We make self-judgments or conclusions by comparing what we believe we should be with what we see ourselves doing—that we are good fathers. If we believe that people should tell the truth and we observe a person lying. jealousy. If we can understand all of the parts of this comparison dynamic—that is. In that way the REB Model structures an equation with one missing variable: the VABE that underlies emotional behavior. those feelings open windows of understanding into the question of why people behave the way they do. Figure 4.22 And our conclusions. they tend to generate emotions. Clearly. To an interested observer or would-be leader. emotions are a big part of human behavior. “Pygmalion in Management” in Harvard Business Review on Managing People (Boston: Harvard Business School Press. believing that people “should” make their own luck. The REB Model gives us a way of working backward to infer the underlying VABE or VABEs that must be in place for a particular event to have produced a particular emotional reaction. the VABEs (What do you believe?). When our observations violate or disconfirm our assumptions about either others or ourselves. 1988).” or we tend to experience negative feelings—sadness. Those conclusions can affect our behavior in a number of ways. the observations (What did you see?). Humans also have the capacity to observe and judge themselves. We may become so convinced that we are or are not something that we stop trying to do anything differently. terrible poets.

their facial expressions. Consider this short episode: George was coming out of the company’s headquarters with an important guest when he saw Bill. his VABEs are contrary to the current event. If we care enough. may be unclear about why they feel what they are feeling. When we see the behavior of another. An example. Behavior Behavior is another result of the comparisons we make between events and our VABEs. such as walking and running. When we see a person who is obviously angry and we know what event triggered that anger. let’s try an example to see how it works to explain why people behave the way they do. the Event ↔ VABEs connections they see. we can begin to infer what his or her underlying assumption might be. we are ignoring the basic causes of that behavior and. It provides a means of enlarging the window into a person’s VABEs. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. our VABEs. . For simple issues. and their eye movements. if a person is angry. talking with a person may begin to reveal to both of you what the underlying assumptions. they cannot describe their own Event + VABE → Conclusion → Emotion → Behavior equation. and the feelings (How does that make you feel?)— we can begin to understand why a person does what he or she does. one of his peer’s subordinates and clearly in a hurry.-16- UVA-OB-0183 (What conclusion do you draw from that?). It includes what people say. For more difficult issues. Behavior is. Usually. if your experience is like mine. if we ignore what lies behind their behavior. Since. ignore a powerful tool for understanding and working with that person. In other words. as well as their major motor movements. therefore. it may take someone more qualified. such as a psychologist or a counselor. period. Bill cursed at the receptionist for not having his taxi waiting and stormed out the front door. As he passed through the lobby. many people are quite unaware of their feelings. as the Skinnerians noted. their gestures. The word “appropriately” implies that we have a judgmental filter. in comparison with an observation.23 the person may even be willing to tell us outright what the underlying VABE was that triggered those feelings. we have to be alert to detect the signals that others give us about themselves. and can listen well enough. It is what we or a camera can observe. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. In fact. caused a conclusion which generated a feeling. that determines what is appropriate and what is not. conclusions. it is not easy to see what people are thinking or feeling. we will have a major insight into why a person behaves in a particular way. in so doing. They may be unclear about an assumption and. simply what people say and do. the behavior of others becomes an “event” for us. to help understand the source of the feelings. on his way out. and emotions are. we reach conclusions about whether the person is behaving appropriately. With the basic elements of the REB Model in place. George’s client turned to George 23 The skill of active or reflective listening is a big help here. When we can identify accurately the underlying assumption that. In trying to understand and influence others. But often people are only vaguely aware of their VABEs. as we’re using it here.

” 7. most groups will give a variety of answers. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. If not. go see him. and cursing at secretaries is unprofessional and unacceptable. Lying to cover up one’s shortcomings is an acceptable way to maintain “face” or reputation. (What explanation would you offer?) Reply. rather from a leader’s point of view. “Oh. The challenge is not to force people to all have the same VABEs. what the underlying VABE must be in order for that behavior to have emerged. Offer an explanation to the guest. Observed Behavior Laugh it off and do nothing. one wants to understand the VABEs of those he or she works with. 3. Only a boss should reprimand a person. demand an explanation of poor behavior. We first list the behavior and then try to infer. Chase Bill and demand an apology. think about it for a moment and decide what you would do or say. one of hundreds we live through each day. Inferred VABE Cursing at secretaries is no big deal and important people understand this. Others. he’s not one of ours. “He’s an interesting duck. You shouldn’t reprimand your people in front of clients. Interestingly. what would you do? Before you read on. Perhaps you would do something even different. (What explanation would you offer?) 6. logically. 2. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. Laugh it off and do nothing. I can assure you. “Oh. Well. Go see Bill the next day and chew him out for behaving unprofessionally. If not. You should reprimand people on the spot to have real results. You can see that those VABEs are quite different and with some variation could “mutate” from person to person. he’s not one of ours. Wait for a while to see if Bill will come to apologize. I can assure you. Most people recognize when they do bad things and if you leave them alone they will rectify the situation. go see him. if we use the REB Model. Where does all this variety of response come from? After all. including: 1. Reply. we can begin to understand what is going on behind each of those alternative action plans. 4. If you were in George’s shoes. We should give a person a chance to do well. 5. Go see Bill’s boss the next day and demand that he reprimand Bill. it was the same.” Wait for a while to see if Bill will come to apologize. including clients.-17- UVA-OB-0183 and remarked. Go see Bill the next day and chew him out for behaving unprofessionally Chase Bill and demand an apology Go see Bill’s boss the next day and demand that he reprimand Bill Offer an explanation to the guest. . single incident. How many more like him do you have around here?” It’s a small incident.

1995). Pausing to tease out another person’s meaning chain does not require you to become a psychologist. The individual may compare the possibility of having to find new work with the cost of having to change behavior and conclude that he would rather find new work. After some conversation it becomes apparent that this person believes that “people should not be pushy. we are guessing. a little informed exploration will often reveal the nature of the part beneath the surface. REB and Leading Change If we try to change a person’s behavior by looking only at the behavior.24 Volunteer organizations regularly have much higher levels of motivation and commitment than for-profit institutions. In fact. So. “If your sales aren’t up by the end of the quarter. perhaps even had pushy parents and is rebelling against the model of interpersonal style. .” All of the behavioral alternatives above are “right” for the person who believes the VABE that leads to them.-18- UVA-OB-0183 Meaning Chains The point is not so much which action plan is “right. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. you might say. While it is often true. If not. as with icebergs. a series of studies have shown that people in general lose motivation when they are paid to do something. the variety involved. some people value working relationships. Why People Do What They Do. We can call that linkage the meaning chain because it lays out the essential links between an event and a person’s behavior. if offering a monetary reward doesn’t seem to work to motivate someone. Trying to change behavior that way is like trying to move the tip of an iceberg without realizing that nine-tenths of the thing is under the water where you can’t see it. Simply telling that person to be more assertive is not likely to change the behavior. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. With people. (New York: Penguin. you both would be better off finding a different job fit for that 24 Edward Deci. That approach can lead to compliant behavior. One must work to identify the chain and to assess the characteristics of each link. That is especially true if we are trying to influence someone. For example. the challenge is first to be able to describe this linkage between Event + VABE → Conclusion → Emotion → Behavior. What’s under the surface are a person’s VABEs. It may be that the person is willing to reexamine the VABE and work to change. the challenge of the work. obedience for the sake of avoiding punishment—or even passiveaggressive sabotage. you are assuming that your subordinate wants more money strongly enough to change his behavior to get it.” Maybe that person has had bad experiences with pushy people. you are not likely to make much progress. believe it or not. Meaning chains are like the value chains we use in strategic analysis. but it does require you to be more careful about judging why people behave the way they do. And. and other features of their work more than they do the monetary compensation it brings. Rather. Suppose you are interviewing a moderate performer in your sales organization. if you offer a subordinate more money (a carrot) if he will increase his sales. Unless you can help the person clarify the underlying VABE and compare the utility of that VABE with the demands of the job at hand. you’re fired” (a stick). a person can only use so much money.

S.-19- UVA-OB-0183 person. We tend to deny. our self-esteem. The more our self-image overlaps our ideal self. discount. Symbol. Figure 5. or ignore disconfirming feedback. we reach a negative conclusion about ourselves. Status. and Personality (nl. So we figure out ways to protect ourselves from the psychological pain that comes with 25 S. Hayakawa. “The basic purpose of all human activity is the protection. that may be the most fundamental human motivation of all. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation.I. . These elements are diagrammed in Figure 5. because we all want to conclude positive things about ourselves. we don’t like seeing gaps between who we want to be and who we are. and our normal. generally positive feeling about ourselves. distort. A well-known social scientist. and the enhancement. Dealing with negative feedback is difficult for most of us. Curtis Publishing. the inward-looking view of who we are is the self-image.” we can “see” our own behavior—and this becomes the input to our VABE comparison. When there is a gap between our ideal self (self-oriented VABEs) and our selfimage. Second. but of the self-concept or symbolic self. 1958). the worse we are likely to feel about ourselves. In fact. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. diminishes. not of the self.I. In other words. Instead of observing an external “event. when we behave in ways that we don’t think we should. we can apply the REB Model not only to external events but also to ourselves. First. the better we feel about ourselves. Ideal Self VABEs Compare Self Conclusions Self Image Self Esteem Behavior Defense Mechanisms Generally speaking. Why? The Self-Concept We tend to ignore disconfirming feedback. An REB view of the self-concept. Hayakawa. the inward-looking set of assumptions about who we think we said is the ideal self. The more distant our self-image is from our ideal self (either because the goals are too high or the behavior is too meager). the maintenance. once noted.”25 What is the symbolic self? Our self-concept can be usefully explained in three parts.

working with. this line of reasoning suggests that one should be attentive to one’s own motivations and memetic endowment. To do that. The fact seems to be that we all try to protect our conclusions about ourselves. it could mean an extended coaching or mentoring period or it could mean looking for a better alignment in another organization. for it keeps us alive and also protected from responding to every little vacillation in feedback that comes along. In the extreme case of abused children. If one tends to build or expand in the misguided attempt to fill some personal psychological hole. functioning adult. and managing other people. It is important to note that. Implications for Managers What does all of this mean for a manager? First. Once a manager learns something of the central VABEs a coworker or subordinate has (by listening. If a person’s VABEs don’t match those of the organization culture. we develop defense mechanisms. Second. it means that in order to be more effective in dealing with. It occurs regularly in life and is appropriate. . Others are not so healthy or productive. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. the person is not likely to hear what you are trying to communicate. observing. In coaching. Third. They give us insight into why people behave the way they do. some of them more useful and helpful to us in our daily lives than others. Some are productive and motivate us to do something about the gaps. we cover up the gaps or ignore them or try to make others’ gaps bigger so ours won’t seem so onerous. we are not likely to be successful in guiding them through a change process. you must learn to talk with them in ways that will tend to keep their defenses relaxed rather than activated. The simple statistics on the high failure rate of most so-called “mega-mergers” suggests that something far beyond financial expectation is going on. unless we understand the core VABEs of a person. or persuasion situations. when a person’s defense mechanisms are operating (or “up. about ourselves. the consequences can extend to many.-20- UVA-OB-0183 being aware of those gaps.” We naturally activate our defense mechanisms when we are threatened. If you want to influence others. this can be disastrous. teaching. our view of ourselves. Those mechanisms may be so strong that they let us We will go to extraordinary be aware of only those perceptions that match our basic lengths to protect our selfassumptions and therefore let us draw favorable conclusions concept. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. the manager can assess whether or not the assumptions provide a basis for behavior that aligns with the objectives of the organization. Healthy defense mechanisms are a major difference between the incapacitated psychotic and the normal.” we might say). some will even develop multiple personalities (enormous “holes”) in order to have someone inside that they can “like. one must be alert to the little tips of the psychological icebergs (VABEs) that we all carry around. There are a variety of defense mechanisms. or testing). An abbreviated list of defense mechanisms appears in Exhibit 1.

you can decide whether you’re making progress or not. If not. in smaller performance management settings. he will be negating the human side of individuals and. Is that right?” And if “John” confirms your observation. including responses to leaders. First. do it yourself” is not a very functional managerial or leadership VABE. can you confirm your assessment with the individual? Can you. Summary A person’s behavior.) Various defense mechanisms attempt to shield our self-concept by protecting us This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. These conclusions generate emotions in us that drive and shape our behavior (the REB Model). assumptions. Third. This implies a simple but powerful model for coaching. These “oughts” and “shoulds” vary in their importance to an individual and also vary from individual to individual.) Second. if a manager concludes that another’s inappropriate behavior is based on assumptions that are fundamental to the individual’s personality. What are you willing to give this change effort? Six months? Two years? Fourth. they begin to gel a set of values. since core values are not likely to change quickly. John. you can check that one off as “accurate” and go on to the next one. We can apply the REB perspective to our views of ourselves as well as to our views of external events and other people—and this application affects our self-esteem. do you see what the VABEs of the other person are? Can you write them down on paper? (This is a wonderful discipline for sharpening your thinking—many people think they understand something until they begin to write it down and discover that it’s not so clear to them after all. and expectations about how the world works by the time they are 10. On the other hand. it seems to me that you seem to believe that if you want it done right. at the end of your tentative “probationary” period. Simply telling someone to “delegate more!” though. But as long as the manager ignores the VABEs that shape and generate behavior. (See Exhibit 2 for an overview. worse. beliefs. you have to do it yourself. maybe a change will have to be made. you can set a time frame that you are willing to work on this. People begin learning rapidly at birth. is the result of many factors. Subsequent behavior stems from conclusions that emerge from a comparison of things seen through personal VABEs. you can begin coaching—actively meeting with and discussing the functionality of the agreed upon VABEs. the manager might hope to work with the individual to explore the usefulness of the assumption and its resulting behavior and perhaps initiate a change in the assumption and the behavior that grows from it. Is “John” willing to discuss this? Are you very adept at managing the conversation? Can you guide him to see voluntarily how another approach might be more functional? Fifth. the manager may begin thinking about alternative assignments for the individual. Guessing is not managing. If you are making progress. if the underlying assumption seems to be a peripheral one. Depending on their familial support and their cultural surroundings. perhaps you can continue your coaching with the hope that things will improve. is not likely to produce a change. in informal conversations.-21- UVA-OB-0183 Fourth. . clarify and focus your tentative insights? “Gee. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. he will be guessing at why they are behaving the way they are. probably privately with yourself. “If you want it done right.

(See Exhibit 3 for a list of principles introduced in this note and questions for reflection. and by testing people’s reactions to our proposals or conversations. they will have a more lasting impact than if they simply target the external behavior (activity) exhibited by another. Managers and potential leaders can use that framework to begin to understand why people behave the way they do. We can do this by listening. Effective leaders will then explore ways to influence VABEs.) This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. That involves watching for evidence of the VABEs that lie underneath a person’s behavior. .-22- UVA-OB-0183 from hurtful information—perhaps even if it’s factual. by observing. for if they are able to influence at the VABE level.

DISPLACEMENT. know he or she is weeping. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. REPRESSION. Practical jokes and wit with hidden hostile content are examples of displacement. to avoid dealing with a situation. realizing the gap between the present and the goals. Productive Defense Mechanisms ALTRUISM. Channeling the emotions and motivations of difficult situations into other situations that promise some instinctive gratification. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Behaving in the opposite way of what one wants. Helping others in a real. . Short-term dramatic changes in personality or behavior to deal with a situation. happy-go-lucky behavior in response to the death of a loved one. Compare with DENIAL. HUMOR. 1977). 1 Source: Adapted from George E. drug abuse. Transferring feelings toward a less important object or person. SUBLIMATION. Rationalizing about situations and even developing solutions to them mentally but never doing what needs to be done to realize them. and being willing to work toward the goals. Turning situations that require outward response inward. For instance. SUPPRESSION. Postponement of consideration of difficult or painful information. Unhealthy. a bereaved person may weep. Failures or procrastinations or other means of personal ineffectiveness performed in response to anger at others or situations. DISSOCIATION. 383–86. Moderately Healthy Defense Mechanisms INTELLECTUALIZATION. Vaillant. hating someone one loves. Adaptation to Life: The Seasons of a Man’s Life.1 Healthy. This includes drinking. Sudden care-free. “I will deal with this tomorrow” and then does so. but may have forgotten why. Helping others when one wants to be helped. Convenient forgetting of what may be difficult for the sake of not confronting the situation. Giving in to impulses in order to avoid dealing with a situation. One says.-23- UVA-OB-0183 Exhibit 1 WHY PEOPLE BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO An Abbreviated List of Personal Defense Mechanisms. and the like. ANTICIPATION. PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR. Unproductive Defense Mechanisms ACTING OUT. REACTION FORMATION. rather than an imaginary. Setting goals. (Boston: Little Brown and Company. way that yields some instinctive gratification to the individual. Paying undue attention to some things. particularly mental machinations. Pointing out the absurdities in life and one’s self without hurting self and in a way that neither hurts nor excludes others.

Dangerous Defense Mechanisms DISTORTION. . Neither the fantasy nor the solution to the situation are affected. DENIAL. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Translating concerns about the situation into physical ailments or sickness when there is none. Attributing one’s own feelings and concerns to others. Using fantasies to avoid dealing with a situation. PROJECTION. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. Refusal to be aware of reality. SCHIZOID FANTASY. False conclusions about reality and its relationship to the self. Grossly reshaping reality to fit inner needs. DELUSIONAL PROJECTION.-24- UVA-OB-0183 Exhibit 1 (continued) HYPOCHONDRIASIS.

-25- UVA-OB-0183 Exhibit 2 WHY PEOPLE BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO The REB Model: Understanding Human Behavior. FEELINGS The emotions we experience related to the conclusions we reach. Our “self image. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. we tend to have negative emotions. If our observations match our VABEs. events. assumptions. CONCLUSIONS External The decisions. BEHAVIOR What people do.” EVENTS (OBSERVATIONS) External What we “see.” Descriptions of the people. Internal What we see about ourselves. and attributions we make about others. . ASSUMPTIONS (VABEs) External Our beliefs about the way the world or people in it should or ought to be. and attributions we make about ourselves. and expectations (VABEs) Internal Our VABEs about how we think we should be. judgments. Not what we think or feel. only what we say and do as caught on camera. If our observations don’t match our VABEs. The things we see ourselves doing. judgments.” DEFENSE MECHANISMS The various ways in which we try to protect and enhance our selfconcept. we have generally positive emotions. beliefs. This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. Our core values. Internal The decisions. Our “ideal self. and things we see.

one is little more than a passenger in the tide of human history. but also internal behavior. and expectations. Human behavior is a function of internal values. Our conclusions and our emotions shape our behavior. The REB (rational-emotive-behavior) model explains not only external. Leaders are good. Do I behave today to fill in holes from my past? What can I do to let go of that behavior? 4. 11. 4. Unless one transcends those endowments. 7. Control theory summarizes a dominant model of leadership in the world. 10. What are my core leadership VABEs about how one leads? 3. they see things. but they do try to understand the personalities and psychological makeup of the people they hope to influence. People develop their personalities early in life. 6. but choice theory provides a more powerful view of leader–follower behavior. . assumptions. Effective leaders are students of human behavior. We all compare events with our VABEs and reach conclusions based on those comparisons. How can I be more observant of the VABEs of others? 5. Am I attentive to when others say “should” or “ought”? 6. 8. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. 5. We all try to protect our self-concepts. 2. 3. 9. self-judgment. Leaders may not be psychologists.-26- UVA-OB-0183 Exhibit 3 WHY PEOPLE BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO Principles of Effective Leadership Introduced in this Note and Questions for Reflection Principles 1. but our conclusions and our emotions are based on our VABEs. 12. beliefs. Human behavior is a function of genetic and memetic endowments. Questions 1. descriptive observers of events around them. that is. How good am I at listening and inferring what others believe? This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School. not just their behavior. Effective leaders understand the VABEs of others and work to influence them. Our conclusions stimulate emotions within us. or VABEs. What VABEs did my family teach me? 2.

.-27- UVA-OB-0183 Exhibit 3 (continued) 7. Use outside of this course is a copyright violation. What are the core VABEs of the people closest to me? Can I write them down? 8. What are the core VABEs of the people I supervise? Can I write them down? 9. Which defense mechanisms do I tend to use the most? Are they functional or dysfunctional? Why or why not? This document is authorized to be used only in MBA 612: Leadership I at Northwood University's DeVos Graduate School.