Nature’s Dirty Trick

I knew that OOPs! was going to be controversial when an executive who was asked to review the manuscript said, "I found myself getting angry as I read it." Of the 13 management practices that waste time and money that I cover in the book, I expected the most "push back" from executives on stretch goals and my expectations have been generally met.  However, what I didn't expect was the reaction I have received to "yelling and screaming and other forms of public criticism" which I cover under the practice of Promoting People That No One Likes. A group of nuclear plant managers wanted to argue that it is necessary to "get in someone's face" on occasion.  Several others at various presentations have made similar remarks.  A little-league coach told one of my friends, "I think he is wrong.  I think that it helps the player focus."

Why do people, from managers and coaches to parents, believe that being verbally abusive to someone is a motivator? That is a rhetorical question because the science of behavior gives the answer. Yelling and screaming and criticizing almost always produce an immediate reaction from the criticizee that reinforces the one doing the yelling and criticizing.  I refer to this as the "punishment trap."  It is a trap because once you start this behavior, you continue to get reinforcement from the immediate response even though it does not produce the best long-term result. This is as true in the office as it is at home and on the athletic field.  This does not mean that negative consequences do not have a place in correcting performance.  I have written extensively about this in my books.  However, getting in someone's fact is not effective.

Coach John Wooden, in Wooden on Leadership, has a chapter titled, "Emotion is your enemy."  As he says, "Control of your organization begins with control of yourself."  Symphony conductors are known for their emotional outbursts during practice.  They do it in the name of perfection.  However, I just heard an interview on NPR with New York Philharmonic conductor Lorin Maazel about his impending retirement.  He said that after his last rehearsal with the Philharmonic, one of the musicians said they had been waiting for Maazel to lose his temper once and he never did.  He said, "I was very pleased with that comment."  He went on to say, "I'm very firm about what it is that I feel I want for myself and from the orchestra and I'm quite stubborn, I keep at it," he says. "But if you respect the people you're working with, you don't start shaking your fist at them. It's also true at home. No child, and I've had seven of them, has ever felt my hand. An intelligent parent learns very quickly about the importance of the alternative. Rather than saying, 'Don't do that,' why not say 'Do this.'"  The world would be a better place if others could develop his skill in dealing with people.

People who yell, scream and criticize others in public pay a personal price for this behavior in what it does to their own attitude and physical health but the reality is that in spite of personal experience to the contrary, it is not an effective technique for creating an organization that does its best in the marketplace.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.