People don’t change just because you have asked them to do so

Grace will always love to hunt for frogs at the water's edge. There is no way I could stop that instinct. Are you expecting changes from someone that are unrealistic?
Grace got another rabbit.

I don’t post this lightly. You know how devastated I was the first time it happened. And by admitting a repeat performance, well, it’s like admitting failure. How could I allow a horrible thing to happen not just once, but twice?

I can’t blame Grace, even though that would be convenient. I was sure she could tell how distraught I was before. Animals are supposed to be so in tune with their owner’s emotions. How could she not know that I was so upset over the incident? And therefore, if she knew how distraught I was, I could surmise that there was no way she would do it again.

Does this situation sound familiar in your workplace? Somehow, we think that the other person “just knows” that what they did was something we didn’t want them to repeat. We have this impression that after just one conversation, magical changes will occur and we’ll never have to address the issue again.

It just doesn’t work that way. Changing an action is a very difficult thing to do. We do things for a reason. It could be that it’s our comfortable style or that it’s something we never had a problem with in the first place.

With Grace, it’s her instinct to chase a rabbit. There is little hope that I would ever be able to successfully call her off such a hunt. Being on a leash would be the answer, of course, and trust me, in the seconds that the events unfolded, I realized that the leash was doing no good in my pocket.

The first time this happened, I was totally taken off guard. I’d never seen a rabbit around there before. Two days ago when Grace plucked an unsuspecting bunny from underneath a fallen tree trunk, I wasn’t prepared, but I instantly knew what was happening.

I have no idea how many rabbits have taken up residence near our home and I definitely don’t want to find out the hard way. I haven’t gone back there with her, nor plan to anytime soon, and when we’re anywhere near there, she’ll be on a leash.

Asking her to change from doing something that is completely within her instincts and nature is just setting us both up for failure. It’s just as ridiculous to expect overnight changes in behavior from a co-worker, even when there has been conversation.

We have to create a new structure, or alter a process, that will allow for new pathways of change to occur. For me and Grace, it’s removing the temptation.

I often work with situations where a manager and an employee have opposing work styles. The balance of those different styles can sometimes be a real advantage but it also creates friction. A common difference is Energy level. This pertains to the way one approaches the flow of their work. On one end, a person is more methodical and focused, working to complete one thing before moving to the next, often giving the perception of working more slowly. Meanwhile the other person is juggling a thousand things at once, reading email while talking on the phone and motioning to the person standing in front of their task. Asking one person to operate using the other person’s style would be pointless. They may be able to handle it for a short period, but the stress of behaving in such a foreign way would be unproductive for everyone. We need to find ways to adjust the structure of the environment that will allow for the most natural fit of the way a person needs to operate.

I cried when I buried that second bunny this week. It was heartbreaking to know an innocent animal was killed again. But it is unrealistic for me to think that Grace will change her ways just because it makes me so sad.

When managing others, remember that change will happen when the structure changes to support a different behavior. Are you expecting different results without doing anything differently? People won’t change just because you have asked them to do so.

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7 comments

  1. Robin, I’m so sorry about the rabbit. But you’re right not to blame Grace, she is just being herself. I have two dogs – one dog will chase anything that moves and the other dog couldn’t be less interested in chasing things. Daisy (the one with the high prey drive) is always on a leash when we hike while my other dog is sometimes allowed off-leash because he can be trusted. It’s simply not safe for Daisy (or for the local wildlife) for her to be off-leash. I have felt guilty about this for years, blaming myself for not training her properly. But I’d rather feel guilty about the leash, than feel guilty about her running away and getting lost or hit by a car, or hurting another animal. And you’re right, even though we’d like to see behavior changes, we have to work with the personalities we have around us (dog or human), and know that dogs and people can only bend so far to please us. At least with Grace and Daisy, the solution is an easy one – a leash. With people the solutions get much more complicated! 🙂

    • Robin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I completely understand the hard balance (and decisions) of wanting your dogs to enjoy the walks but also being safe. It was certainly another reminder that I can’t expect something to change if I don’t make a change! Thanks for your comment!

  2. LeeAnn says:

    Hey Robin – so sorry that you went through this again! Your description of crying while you buried the bunny brought tears to my eyes. You are such a kind person. I have had times where I have expected my Gracie to understand me, and she didn’t. When I look back on my situations I think how silly I was to expect that. She (and your Grace, perhaps) could be totally misreading our anxiety/stress as relating to some other aspect – maybe even fear of the bunny. It continues to amaze me how you tie these situations into workplace relationships – and it makes so much sense and brings clarity to the situation. Hugs to you and Grace!

    • Robin says:

      LeeAnn, you are so right in how the way we often put thoughts or words into another person’s (or dog’s) perception of the same situation that just aren’t true. Just because I think about this situation sadly, it certainly doesn’t mean Grace does (or even should). And that definitely happens in the workplace, where we project something onto another person inaccurately. Thank you so much for your kind words, too, they always help me tremendously.

  3. This post really resonates with my current goal to change Miss Maple’s reactive behaviour when on-leash. It’s true, we can’t expect our pups to know with precision the aspect(s) of their behaviour that we as humans have deemed ‘inappropriate’, particularly when they are simply reacting in their own natural ways to stimuli. We have to create a conducive environment for change to happen and succeed, and your last paragraph summed it up perfectly!

    • Robin says:

      Yes, definitely an excellent example of why your goal is so important! And while not easy for us to make changes, it certainly makes a difference in the lives of others. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. Lionel Lloyd says:

    Sorry about that second rabbit Robin. I have the same problem with Sia barking at strangers. Even though she has no intentions of harming anyone, it is still frustrating.

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