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Why does your What not Work? Could it be Behavioral Preferences?

This blog is a sticky one that could cause reactions.

Some folks are open to suggestions, to opinions, to thoughts of others and some are not so much. Optimally, a co-worker would know when to hold the line on their opinion and when to ask for more information before coming to a conclusion. The territory of our opinions about the world outside of ourselves is rich if you have the stomach for it. This comparison falls in the realm of behavioral preferences.

I reviewed a survey of a subset of executives (56) and found that the range of scores on “certain” ( the tendency to feel confident in one’s opinions) was as low as 3 out of 10 and as high as 10 out of ten; the average was 7. The average for “open and reflective” (the tendency to reflect on many different viewpoints) was 8, while the range only went as low as 4. So in that group of 56 executives — people who have, or do serve on senior executive teams — the range was wide. It is the relationship BETWEEN these traits that counts, however, when managing impacts and upsets caused by behavioral imbalance. These traits are paradoxical, you see; they NEED each other to balance out our choices.

I mirror the averages; 7 on certain, 8 on open/reflective. This generally means I am pretty clear when to hold the line on my opinions, and when to listen for value from others. The impact of an imbalance on this paradoxical pair— and other imbalances — can damage relationships and make working with someone harder than it should be. And it isn’t easy to look at this topic. It seems, on the surface, easier to just give that people stuff to HR and hope it goes away.

Behavioral Preferences are EVERYWHERE: At work, at home, and on the commute.

Asking the question, “Why does your what not work?” is fraught with landmines for anyone not interested in others’ opinions. Asking this question could lead to what some leaders consider a psychedelic journey into the never never land of how we make choices. I have found that a minority of leaders of organizations are really interested in the answer to this rather deep and frothy question because the answers lie in places where measures are thought to not exist. The problem is, those hidden and unexamined unknowns drive EVERYTHING.

The “WHATs” are the outcomes, the TANGIBLE evidence of your choices. If you’ve used poor judgment the WHATs cost you time, money and/or relationship. Tangible WHATs may be found in your wardrobe, your spouse, your job, your home — anywhere you are satisfied or unsatisfied with visible, touchable stuff. Sometimes the WHATs occur as circumstances.

The “WHYs” are the reasons and justifications for what you did that resulted in the stuff — the look and feel of that stuff that you are living with. These WHYs are INTANGIBLE.

Dr. Steven Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “You cannot talk yourself out of circumstances that you behaved yourself into.”

Some impacts of WHY we did what we did (married who we did, bought the clothes or the house or the haircut) from poor choices can be relatively short-lived and comparatively benign as the sign above suggests — maybe partying on a week night caused a serious headache the following day. For some the WHATs are more permanent yet seemingly benign on the surface; maybe it’s your weight, for others it’s the hair, or perhaps you work with someone who is always late causing impacts on others’ schedules. But you don’t say anything, you let their WHAT scream at you inside your mind yet you say nothing.

If one of your WHATs is a major trauma this can cause you to need expensive service providers:

  • Bankruptcy attorney
  • Personal injury attorney
  • Trial attorney
  • Divorce attorney
  • Forensic accountant
  • Ambulance
  • Fire truck

I am suggesting in this blog that your WHAT does not work out for you because you spend too little time attending to your internal performance drivers (why) and too much time attending to the tangible (what).  I wandered through Nordstrom today and found three books for sale that provide an opportunity to fix three WHATS that are important to me personally: home, cooking a meal, and my wardrobe — and that is about as deep as we generally like to go.  But there’s more and, as the old saying goes, that is the rub.


Internal performance drivers are those behavioral preferences that guide our thinking, such as the one this blog started with – the choice we make between either being certain of our opinion at the offest of a conversation or situation thus avoiding having to think about alternatives (does dogmatic come to mind?) — and being open and reflective regarding other’s points of view.

At an extreme, being open and reflective could be considered wishy-washy, undecisive.  If your boss is undecisive you want to be the LAST person in line with your idea because ALL ideas seem like good ideas.

Behavioral-Preferences3When it comes to fulfilling your dreams, though, or being really successful in fulfilling your potential, your chances of success in the WHAT (tangible) realm are cdreamsompletely impacted from the WHY (intangible) realm of behavioral preferences. It is really, really hard work to confront the intangible access to your potential or fulfill your dreams. Think about it! How many times have you seen the opportunity, the brass ring, reached for it and missed? I know I have! And I’m not afraid of those dark corners of my being, yet the answers are elusive.

The funny thing is that the more we avoid addressing those scary, confusing behavioral preferences the more they dominate our results! It is paradoxical, and in fact our core behavioral preferences are paradoxical. Twelve of them are measured by the Harrison Assessment including opinions. It is from there I drew my statistics. While I work with these paradoxes in team building and individual executive development inside organizations, they impact our lives EVERYWHERE.

Behavioral-Preferences4My suggestion is to ask your friends, your collaborators, your fellow workers, your enemies. “In your opinion (and it is only their opinion), how balanced am I between being certain of my opinions and being open and reflecting on what you have to say?”

Your WHAT could get better if you put more attention on your WHY, starting with your relationship to your opinions of the world outside of yourself. Start asking those deeper, harder to answer questions, see if you get my drift. See if you can become aware of the impact on relationships of your preferences in these intangible realms. Bring that background to the foreground, and ask the deeper questions of yourself.


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