Great Expectations

What you get is what you see.

When you read today’s Tip, you’re probably thinking, “Of course. I’ve always known that. You get what you see.”

But hold on a minute. Do you really know what that sentence means? Most people don’t. Most people “assume” they “see” the same thing the same way, so they obviously “get” the same result. Not at all true.

Study after study makes it quite clear that two people can look at the same thing but “see” it very differently. One person “sees” a business failure as a reason to quit, while the other person “sees” it as a great lesson for the next time around. One person “sees” a difficult marriage as a reason to cheat on his partner, while the other one “sees” it as time to get some extra training in communication.

The lesson is simple. To a large extent, how you “see” something determines the result you will get. And no where is this truer than in the field of motivation.

If you are convinced that your coworkers and subordinates are turkeys, if you really can’t stand them, it will be very difficult to motivate them. Even if you have great communication skills, if your attitude towards your coworkers is consistently negative, if you expect them to be stupid, dull, and incompetent, that’s how they’ll probably behave. You’ll get what you see.

That’s why your organization might need to have my program on “PEAK PERFORMANCE: Motivating the Best in Others.” I’ll show you exactly what you have to do to turn negative employees into positive ones. And I’ll show you how to turn positive employees into stars. Give me an hour to do a keynote, or even a full-day seminar, and you’ll learn skills that will bring immediate results.

Zig Ziglar makes that clear in one of his stories. He talks about the classroom filled with boys who had become such a discipline problem that no one could handle them. They had behaved so badly that they had driven away seven teachers in six weeks. Finally the principal, in desperation, called on a retired teacher — an elderly lady who had years of experience and a formidable reputation — and asked if she would consider taking the class for a short time until he could resolve the problem.

The old lady was excited by the challenge. “I’ve always loved boys. Let me teach them,” she said. “I can start on Monday.”

The principal was surprised and delighted by her enthusiasm. But then, in all fairness, he explained that the problems in the schools had escalated since she retired some ten years before. Perhaps, he suggested, if he hired a guard to stand in the back of the room, she would be able to handle the classroom temporarily.

“Let me look at that roster,” the teacher challenged him. “I’ve always liked boys. Always worked well with them.”

She read the list — John Anderson, 156; Tom Brown, 145; Joe Carter, 147 — and so forth. She was excited by what she “saw.” The principal didn’t understand her excitement, but he was grateful to have found someone for the class.

The new teacher refused his offer for an armed guard. She assured him that she’d never had any discipline problems with any of her students. So the principal said that she could try the class alone for a little while.

By the end of the semester, it was obvious that all was going well. The boys stopped skipping school. They did their homework, and they scored several points higher on their achievement tests than any of their peers in the other classrooms. The year was so successful that the parents, the other teachers, and the boys, gathered for an end-of-the-year banquet in honor of the elderly teacher.

After dinner, the testimonials began. Everyone stood up to praise the old lady. They marveled at her success and the boys’ progress in a situation where everyone else had given up.

After a few complimentary speeches, the old lady stood up and demanded to speak. “I do appreciate all of this honor,” she said. “But we’ve heard enough about me. The real praise should go to the principal. He was wise enough to put all of those gifted young men in the same room where they could learn from each other. I knew the moment I read the class roster — John Anderson, 156; Tom Brown, 145; Joe Carter, 147 — I would never have another opportunity to work with students with such high IQ’s.”

The embarrassed principal didn’t know what to say. He mumbled to the teacher, “Didn’t I tell you? Those numbers by their names were not their IQ’s. Those were their locker numbers.”

The numbers could just as well have been the boys’ IQ’s. After all, that’s how the teacher “saw” them. The teacher treated the boys as if they were super intelligent, and the boys performed accordingly. She got what she expected.

And the same is true for you. To motivate people to be their best, you’ve got to believe in them. You’ve got to avoid negative self-fulfilling prophecies. If you see an employee as a pain in the neck, as not having a great deal to offer, if you don’t expect very much, then chances are better than average that you won’t get very much.

Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, wondered whether kids would do better in school if the teacher expected more of them. So he sent researchers into elementary classrooms across the country and administered intelligence tests before they conducted the expectation experiment. After the tests were administered, a psychologist met with the teachers and identified the students they considered to be “spurters” — students they expected to make unusual progress during the coming school year.

When the researchers returned in the spring, they found that their predictions were accurate. The “spurters” had, indeed, made extraordinary progress. The “spurters” gained 10 to 27 IQ points during the year!

The catch was that the researchers never even looked at the tests. The students had been identified randomly without any attention to previous academic record, test scores, or any other evidence. The prophesy of a “spurt” was a self-fulfilling prophesy. The teachers expected it, and that’s what they got.

In business it’s called the “Pygmalion Effect.” What you believe about a person influences how that person behaves. So you need to know how to believe positive things about people because it impacts the other person’s motivation and achievement.

That’s what I’ll talk about next week. Stay tuned

Action:  Make a conscious effort to place a positive self-fulfilling prophesy on someone at work or at home. Believe in him. And believe in his potential. Expect good things from him. You have very little to lose and a lot to gain.