When I was working as a full-time comedian, one of the sagest pieces of advice given to me by - a now hugely successful - comedian was that it doesn’t matter what you think of your act, or the routines you perform: your opinion doesn’t count. At all. It is for the audience to decide if they like it or not. Your audience, in effect, are your boss.
As a behaviourist I am most interested in, perhaps unsurprisingly, behaviour: why we do the things we do and how to change them, for the better. For the last ten years, I’ve been presenting at conferences and creating and delivering interactive training, working with organisations worldwide to help them to positively change behaviour in their workforce.
I now offer that same piece of advice to all of my clients, whether they be automotive manufacturers, retailers or pharmaceutical companies because we are all guilty as a species of becoming consumed with our own opinions: we are making conscious decisions and choices all the time, all of which have consequences and it's this self-directed mentality which can lead to change blindness.
I regularly work with clients who make decisions with absolutely no regard to their customers; others will think they know what the customer wants and proceed with a choice or change and very few indeed will ask the customer first what they want – and then deliver it. And so it is with all of us in our own lives almost every day.
Far too many people who I meet are concerned, anxious even, about what other people do or might think about them.
When I was about ten years old, I remember practising a magic trick in front of the mirror and whenever it was time to do the particular move in order for the trick to work, I would blink my eyes or look away from my hands, so as not to see the move. More than ten years of research and study into psychology and behaviour later and I not only realise that this is possibly the funniest example of cognitive dissonance or ‘change blindness’ in action, but it is also extremely common among each of us. Change blindness can happen when you are choosing what to wear and even forming an opinion about something.
Changing your opinion or how you feel about something you do or the way in which you behave; convincing yourself that you have attributes better than you perhaps really do is the equivalent of blinking during the magic trick. While it is true that most people are watching us and judging us from the second we walk into their vision, our perception of who we are should not be skewed by what we perceive is their impression of us.
When I worked for the Walt Disney Company I was taught a phrase that is now in the very core of my being, both personally and professionally: everything speaks. When you walk into a conference room or hotel room or restaurant you don’t consciously notice and make a point of the fact that the carpet has been vacuumed, or that all of the light bulbs are working or that there isn’t any dust on the curtains. Conversely, you do notice if there is dust and dirt on the floor or if there is paint peeling off of the walls or the cutlery is dirty: we notice the negative things and tend not to pick up on the things that are right. It’s an interesting human trait.
It is extremely important that we understand that everything we do helps to create perceptions in the minds of those we work with, meet and spend time around and those perceptions are very difficult to change. We’ve all met people who on first impressions have created our perception of them – and not in a good way. Our perception of them is not positive because of a number of things that we notice: the way they are dressed (is their tie wonky or tied incorrectly?); specifically what they are wearing (are their trousers dirty or creased?); their personal hygiene (are their hands clean or do they smell appealing?); the way in which they move and walk (do they look bored or arrogant?); the way that they talk to us.
We all have the ability to alter the perceptions of those we meet – or work with, not just by the work that we do or by what we wear but how we speak, the way in which we stand and what our working environment looks like. Everything speaks. We can engineer how our customers and colleagues respond to the work we do or instructions we give and to our very presence, if only we understand a little better why we do the things we do.
Here is a video of Jez speaking at a recent TedX event at The Open University explaining why if we give a little we can receive far more in return.
This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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