Respect and Motivation

Every once in a while something happens that reinforces an important concept, the concept in this case being that the way others treat us really does affect our behavior, whether consciously or not.

A Little Background

A few years ago I had an appointment with a service provider. I left for my appointment about 10 minutes late and I should have called, but didn’t want to be even later (stop to find the number, etc). I had been going to this person, let’s call her Sally, for years and to various specialists among this group of providers even longer. I knew Sally would be okay with my being a few minutes late. Unfortunately 10 minutes became 20 due to road work. I really began to regret not calling.

When I arrived for my appointment the receptionist acted like the disapproving parent of a teenager staggering in at three in the morning. She behaved this way in spite of the fact that I had never been late in the 10 years she had worked there. “Oh well,” I thought, “Sally is the one who matters. She won’t be thrilled but she will understand. Besides,  she only needs about 40 minutes to do what needs to be done.”

I expected to apologize to Sally and then have everything be okay. Imagine my surprise when I learned that she was no longer employed there! With no warning they had switched my appointment to a new person, who was peeved at my late arrival. She took me in anyway, huffed and puffed throughout the session, in spite of my apologies, and then said she was out of time 10 minutes before the end of the hour. Instead of feeling like a client who had messed up once in many years of patronage I left feeling like a criminal.

My solution was to switch specialists but stay with this group. After all, why should I let two people ruin my relationship with a group I have been patronizing most of my adult life? If I were being logical, this would be the end of the story.

Fast Forward to this Past Week

I am upset with myself because I have completely forgotten an appointment with this group for the third time. My husband raises a very good question,

“Why do you forget appointments with these people when you are so reliable everywhere else?

Hmmm, I wondered, was it possible that it wasn’t a coincidence? I like my current specialists so what was the problem? Was there some part of me that didn’t want to go there at all, regardless of who I was working with? It didn’t make much sense, but my record seemed to speak for itself. It appears that the way I was treated by the receptionist (who still works there) and one specialist (gone) has influenced my behavior.

I am not proud of the fact that I may be unconsciously sabotaging myself and inconveniencing my providers, and I certainly wouldn’t share my poor behavior here, except to illustrate the apparent power of disrespect to demotivate long term – and in a less than conscious and rational manner.

The Organizational Link

When organizations are faced with poor engagement they often try to motivate with pay raises, promotions, or awards, Often they fail. Why? Because something has happened that has sent a strong message that people aren’t valued. Logically, employees see the that new initiative is intended to tell them that they are important to the organization. But logic doesn’t drive  motivation and engagement, emotion does.

The answer, for organizations (and me), is an honest conversation followed by behaving with integrity.


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