Jacky Leonard's blog

Archive entries for: Apr-2012

A Matter of Choice?

Categories:  Being on purpose

“Life is the sum of all your choices.”

Albert Camus

I’ve been fascinated with human behaviour for almost as long as I’ve been on the planet.  The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of personal interaction has always interested me, although as I’ve ‘grown’ I find I’ve become more preoccupied with the intentions behind these behaviours...‘why’ we make the choices we do.

So...have you ever stopped to consider why you behave the way you do?  If life is a journey, what is it that influences the path you take…is it a matter of chance, or choice?  Is it nature...are you genetically predisposed to act in a particular way?  Is it nurture...have you been taught to behave in a certain way?   Or...is it CHOICE?  The likelihood is it’s a combination of all 3.

Psychologists suggest we may not be all that complicated after all.  Our behaviour could be as simple as ABC i.e. Antecedent (external and internal triggers) – Behaviour – Consequence.

The question is which of these triggers are most powerful?  Are we externally, or internally motivated i.e. are we programmed to respond to external stimuli, or more likely to make decisions based on our internally developed notions of what’s most important and satisfying to us?  Some choices appear relatively simple while others, affecting our lifestyle, religious affiliation or political preferences may be more complex as they impact directly on our core values and personal beliefs.

I’m not a qualified psychologist...more of a pragmatic observer of my fellow man and a reflective self analyst so my articles tend to have little to do with clinical accuracy and more to do with personal experience acquired over a long career working with a diverse populous.  So let me share some of thoughts with you now.

Wikipedia defines choice as...

“...the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them.”

Of course, none of these ‘multiple options’ may be particularly palatable, after all if every action has a consequence, what would happen if you got it wrong and had to take responsibility for the decisions you made.  A friend of mine was recently considering giving some feedback to his employer regarding a newly introduced process that was adversely affecting his ability to respond to his customers needs.  This was leading to discontent in the workforce and deterioration in customer service.  He queried the wisdom of the new system with a number of his peers who it appeared were having the same issues.  So…what would you do?  Surely if a system is introduced that is clearly detrimental to the efficiency of the organisation you’d want to challenge it, wouldn’t you?  Perhaps not, if…

  • your previous feedback fell on stony ground and you’re now sick of knocking your head against a brick wall.
  • you’ve been publicly shot down in flames, why put yourself in the firing line again, particularly in the current economic climate, after all replacement jobs are hard to find.
  • the previous system worked better, maybe it would be less aggravation to revert to the one that worked for you, without anyone knowing.

As often is the case, there are multiple choices, I’ve cited just a few.

However, the concept of having “multiple options” felt completely alien to him, he felt he had no choice given his past experience i.e. his picture of his working world was not a happy one.  In theory he had choice, in practise the potential consequences of speaking his mind left him with just one – say nothing!   It seems even though you have the ability and the opportunity to choose it’s often easier to procrastinate, or adopt an ostrich management approach, however the reality is indecision becomes decision with time!  

So, what implications could this have for the business?  Well let’s face it; indecision and fear are not particularly healthy management tools.  If organisational culture puts people in what they believe are invidious positions and expects them to act against their core values their choices become limited and painful.  Communication breaks down, creativity is stifled and systems go unchallenged, which overtime can have dramatic consequences, not just on the individual but on the organisation.  If your people feel undervalued, your customers will feel that way too in time.    Your staff may be reluctant to leave in the current economic climate, but your clients won’t necessarily feel the same allegiance.  Your customers always have the right to choose; they can leave whenever they like.  To survive you have to continue to value input from your stakeholders, encourage ownership and allow your people to learn by making their own decisions.

If William Glasser’s Choice Theory http://www.wglasser.com/the-glasser-approach/choice-theory is to be believed, external events cannot make us do anything; we always have some choice in how we behave.  This doesn’t mean you have unlimited choice, or that external data is irrelevant; it means you may have more control than you think, but with this comes a responsibility for the decisions you make.  An empowering concept in my opinion!  Much depends on your perception; your window on the world. 

So which is it?  Indecision, blame and regret or opportunity, responsibility and action – YOU CHOOSE.

Alternatively you can draw up your own list; that’s the beauty of choice!


"Life's not about expecting, hoping and wishing, it's about doing, being and becoming.

It's about the choices you've just made, and the ones you're about to make, it's about the things you choose to say - today.

It's about what you're gonna do after you finish reading this."
Mike Dooley