Applying the Right Conditioning, Not On Your Hair, On Your Colleagues

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One of the best ways to become more productive is to proactively manage the expectations of others, rather than simply react to them the moment they appear. This sounds tricky at first glance, but it really comes down to conditioning.

Conditioning makes gains through positive reward.

Many types of creatures can be conditioned by way of a food reward, after they perform a desired action. That’s what the whole “Pavlov’s dog” thing was about. With our human colleagues the same approach can be applied, but instead of food, you can use another basic need, and that is comfort. Whether they are your co-workers, clients, colleagues or managers – they all crave the comfort of knowing their current need will be handled. When you address that craving, you deliver comfort to them.

But comfort can come in two forms: you can do what they ask, or you can manage their expectations. The first response conditions people to know they can always get what they want from you right away. For example, a colleague sends you a work-related email at 11:30 p.m. If you respond to it, you are conditioning the sender to always expect the same type of 24/7 service. That’s great for them, but not great for you.

The second – managing their expectations – gives them the comfort of knowing they have been heard and will be attended to, within a reasonable amount of time. This second choice, I believe, is much better.

To protect your valuable working time, and to use it correctly, we have to identify every opportunity to influence and soothe the wills and egos of those around us. Simply blocking off time or disappearing into an unused office to get work done, for example, runs the risk of causing the people around you great worry – not for your safety, necessarily, but for the satisfaction of their own needs. They will continue to try to find you.

If you don’t feel like performing this type of expectation-reward conditioning, remember that choosing not to condition is still conditioning. Whichever response you give to a request or interruption, it becomes the precedent for future expectations.

Let’s put it this way: a colleague comes to you with a task that he perceives as urgent. He wants you to do it. If there is no one else who can do this task but you, there are three possible answers:

  • I’ll do it now.
  • I’ll do it later.
  • I can’t do it now, but I can do it at 2:00. How’s 2:00 for you?

The first answer, “I’ll do it now,” informs the requester that you are willing to drop everything to accommodate the request. That’s not good. Once precedent has been set, the expectation is that you will do so again and again, and you will lose control of that relationship.

The second answer, “I’ll do it later,” is unacceptable to your colleague’s need for comfort. They demand satisfaction, and a vague answer isn’t enough. Any time we use avoidance without an acceptable alternative, the requester remains motivated to pursue a better answer.

The third answer presents a suitable alternative to “now.” In this case, 2:00 is sufficiently close as to soothe the requester’s need for satisfaction, without requiring that you drop everything immediately. Providing that you actually pay this confidence back by dealing with the request at 2:00, you will have conditioned your colleague to recognize that you are accessible, albeit, more on your own terms.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

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