Enjoying Your Work
The influence of ‘That’s the sort of person I am’
After working with new college graduates who entered his company over the last 10 years, Mike Doherty finally decided that he needed to learn more about information technology and desktop computers.
Now 60 years old, Mike had gone to college during the days of mainframe computers housed in a special building on campus. Given that computers were not in every college building -- never mind not on everyone's desk -- he had used the mainframe only for special projects.
Mike observed that the recent graduates were very computer literate and that their skills helped them in their work. They were able to do research on potential customers and clients that helped in the development of business proposals. They were able to use word processors in the preparation of documents and could deliver "camera ready" manuscripts to printers. Recent graduates could summarize empirical information on Excel spreadsheets and integrate compelling graphics into Power Point presentations. They were even able to write their own programs that met the specific needs of day-to-day operations.
Mike decided that he did not want to be viewed as a workplace dinosaur and as a person who was out of date regarding the changing workplace.
So Mike decided to enroll in a nighttime community college course called "Information Technology for Beginners." The instructor introduced various computer skills to class members, always showing patience when people did not understand how to use a certain program. After six weeks of the class, Mike felt that he was making good progress. After 12 weeks, he began to use his new knowledge when working on various projects in his workplace. He decided to sign up for a second and more advanced course at the community college.
About halfway into this second course, he knew that he was learning a great deal when one of the recent college grads came to him and asked a question about importing video clips from the Internet into a Power Point presentation. After about a year, Mike found that he was able to keep up conversations about information technology with all his coworkers. He was now an enthusiastic supporter of computer use in the workplace and recommended new software programs to company executives.
Mike has benefited from an attitude-change process known as changing self-perceptions. The change proceeds along a series of steps. People try a new behavior with which they were previously unfamiliar or which they found distasteful. Outcomes stemming from the new behavior are positive. People then say to themselves, "These new behaviors led to positive results. I guess I'm the sort of person who can perform these behaviors and can reap the benefits. I'll keep performing the behaviors." In Mike's case, his positive self perceptions lead to the desire to increase his computer skills.
The new behaviors that people perform should be voluntary, not forced. People can be nudged and encouraged, as Mike was upon observing the computer skills of younger coworkers, but actions should stem from free will. The behaviors should lead to successes.
Good educators, workplace trainers, and career coaches know this and take steps to be sure that students and proteges feel that they are making progress. Further, people going through attempts to change their behavior should be able to demonstrate improvements that they can see in themselves. When people publicly demonstrate their new behaviors, as Mike did in his workplace, there will be even more reinforcement when people observe the positive reactions of others.
The power of positive self-perceptions can be used for many types of behaviors. The person who starts losing weight by eating only salads at lunch may see the results after standing on a bathroom scale. The person can then say, "I'm the sort of person who can lose weight successfully." The person may then adopt other weight-loss behaviors such as exercising and cutting down on high calorie snacks between meals.
The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org