TITLE: Reaping What You Sow AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 03, 2005 1:57 PM DESC: People become what you treat them to be. ----- BODY: I ran into this quote over at Ben Hyde's blog:
Customers have a tendency to become like the kind of customers you treat them.
Ben related the quote as a commentary on trust in commerce. (Trust and social relationships are ongoing themes of his blog.) He notes that he has observed this truth in many situations. I have, too. Indeed, I think this truth applies in almost all human relationships. (Like all generalizations, this one isn't foolproof, so feel free to prefix each of the following claims with "by and large" or your favorite waffle words.) Parents and Children Children grow into the people you expect them to be. The best sort of discipline for most children is to create an environment in which children know what your expectations are, and then live consistently in that way. Nagging youngsters doesn't work; they come to expect you to nag before they know you care about something. Yelling and screaming don't work, either; they come to think that you don't believe they can behave without being verbally assaulted. If you simply set a standard and then live as if you expect them to meet the standard, they will. When they don't, don't resort to needy negative reinforcement. Usually they know they've fallen short and strive to do better the next time. Teachers and Students Students become what their teachers expect of them, too. If you act as if they are not trustworthy, say, by creating elaborate rules for late work, cheating, and grading, they will soon look for ways to game the system. If you act as if they don't respect class time, say, by wasting it yourself through lack of preparation or rambling digression, they will soon come not to value their time in class. If you set a high standard and expect them to learn and achieve, they usually will. If you trust them with masterpieces, they will come to value masterpieces. Developers and Users The quote applies to all sorts of developer/user relationships. If software developers don't trust their clients, then their clients will start to look out for themselves at the developer's expense. If an API designer acts as if programmers are not smart or reasonable enough to use the API wisely, and so creates elaborate rituals to be followed to ensure that programmers are doing the right thing, then programmers will look for ways to game the API. The result is hacks that confirm the API designer's expectations. Agile methods place a high premium on developing a mutually beneficial relationship between the client and the programmer. The result is that programmers and clients feel free to be what they should be to one another: partners in creating something valuable. Managers and Team Members This truth is a good thing to keep in mind for someone embarking on an administrative or managerial position. When "bosses" treat their "employees" as adversaries in a competition, the employees soon become adversaries. They do so almost out of necessity, given the power imbalance that exists between the parties. But if a manager approaches the rest of the team with openness, transparency, and respect, I think that most members of the team will also respond in kind. Husbands and Wives All of the relationships considered above are hierarchical or otherwise imbalanced. What about peer relationships? I think the assertion still holds. In my many years of marriage, I've noticed that my wife and I often come to behave in the way we think our spouse expects. When one of us acts as if the other is untrustworthy, the other comes to protect his or her own interest. When one of us acts as if the other is incapable of contributing to a particular part of our lives together, the other stops caring to contribute. But when we act as if we are both intelligent, trustworthy, caring, and respectful, we receive that back from each other. ---- Given its wide range of applicability, I think that the truism needs to be restated more generally. Perhaps:
People tend to become like the kind of people you treat them to be.
Or maybe we can restate it as a new sort of Golden Rule:
Treat people like the kind of people you want -- or expect -- them to be.
Or perhaps "Do unto others as you expect them to be." -----