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Strategic Management and Business Consulting

Don’t Let People Box You In

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One of the tenets of my coaching is to think outside the box. You may notice the logo mark for Business Accelerants is a cube with just 7 corners and 3 sides showing. That’s intentional. The 8th corner is missing and the box is open. Too often we get stuck in our ways of thinking and cannot see a new way, an innovative way, of solving a problem. Unfortunately, the same can happen with how we treat people and others treat us.

My two-year-old grandson loves being in a box—literally. Don’t all kids love making a boat or a fort out of a box? He also wants to emulate those he knows best and admires. He wants to try on their shoes. He’s tried on his dad’s casual shoes and his sports shoes. He’s tried on his mother’s snow boots and dress shoes as well. He’s just getting started with his walk in life. He’s not yet ready to “walk a mile” in those shoes. He’s open minded and you can’t label him one thing or another based on the shoes he tries on.

I recently started a talk with other coaches talking about shoes and what comes to mind when you see a particular shoe. I had western boots, hiking boots, glamour shoes, comfortable shoes, flip-flops and more. You can already imagine the words that people used to describe the shoes. Seeing the shoe someone wears often begins the process of putting them into a box. It seems to come all too naturally.

If not the shoes, then maybe it’s the “clothes that make the person.” Yet, even here we begin to box people in by what we see and have previously learned. A picture of a woman in medical gear with a stethoscope is tagged as a nurse when it could be a doctor. A person wielding a mop and bucket could be a janitor, the owner of a cleaning company, or the owner of the company doing much of the work herself. Female accountants can get mistaken as secretaries or receptionists. 

At an early age, we start to put ourselves in boxes. How many of us have gone to a Chinese restaurant and looked at the placemat to determine from the year we were born, what animal we are? We also may be told by the day we were born what we are like in Astrology. Maybe we are the ram of Aires or the bull of Taurus. It’s fun, but it does begin to set us up to box ourselves, and others, in.

We also take a broad brush stroke at classifying and categorizing people according to the generation. We attempt to say people are Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and, now, Gen Z. Certainly there are some big things that we can say, but it is a mistake to think that people’s behavior, feelings, and thoughts can be explained entirely by the period in history in which they were born.

If that were not enough, we have numerous assessments and profiles we can use to determine if someone is a good hire, if they will represent a franchise well, or they have what it takes to be successful in sales. I’ve counted twenty-two different profile assessments, and taken over a third of them for one reason or another through the years. Some I’ve taken multiple times in my life, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I must confess, try as I might, my “profile” has not changed much in forty plus years.

Neuroscience is getting better and better. Some of the assessments come from our instinctual reptilian brain that quickly assesses whether someone or something is a friend, food, or a foe. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and his pyramid is no longer the authority on the subject of “why” people do what they do. Today, it is more SCARF for our desire for Status and esteem, our need for Certainty in life, our desire for Autonomy to do it our own way, our need to be Related to others, and a sense of Fairness that develops in us almost before we learn to talk.

Another approach is that thoughts create feelings which create behaviors that reinforce thoughts. Many of us have just finished forty days and nights of rethinking, adjusting our feelings, and changing behaviors as we prepare for Passover and Easter. Almost every religion has a way of discussing the importance of “right” thoughts creating the “right” feelings and others will know it by our “right” behaviors. This is the essence of Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy which started in the 1950s. 

To me, it still comes down to positive mental attitude. Cut out the  “‘t” in “I can’t do it to” make it “I can do it.” Erase the “im” in i”mpossible” to make it “possible.” For sales in particular, a positive mental thought, creates positive feelings that are transferred to customers, clients, and prospects. It changes your behavior, and is intended to change the behavior of the customer and get them to buy your product or service.

You can deal with people better when you can empathize with the pressures they are under. The pressures of a sales person are different than those in accounting. Legal professionals have different feelings and thoughts than those in human resources or manufacturing. Engineering people may be similar to those in information technology, but different than those in purchasing. Their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by where they are in the organization and the challenges of the organization, especially related to its maturity between startup and bankruptcy or sale.

It’s really not about the shoe, or the shoe box. It’s about the other end of our bodies, the brain. You and I are individuals and so are our customers. Don’t let people box you in.

If you are interested, you can view a presentation on this subject and the slides at:

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