Do You Have Faith In People’s Goodness?

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“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. Always pray to have eyes that see the best in people, and a heart that forgives the worst.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

You may be surprised to discover your answer might too often be no. When you don’t, you likely don’t realize the chain of events that occur and what they cost everyone. In my work, I repeatedly see an alarming pattern: a lack of faith in the goodness of people. There is also the belief it is then your job to change, fix, convert or heal them, leading to the use of control methods in an attempt to influence behavior or thinking. Whenever you choose control of others, you are holding a negative view of them and this view sets into motion a counterproductive chain reaction. Here are three common control methods used, sometimes simultaneously. Each is an attempt to motivate adults and children to improve and includes a negative view of them. Consider: do you use any or all of these approaches?

Control Method 1: Autocratic Approach

In this approach, beliefs you hold about others are that they can’t be trusted; that you must set up their goals and delegate their responsibilities because otherwise they would not do anything or not do the right things. You see your role as one in which you should manage others. The problem is that accountability is in your hands and because you have not taught it to others, they become less responsible. You are focused on holding others accountable to your policies or procedures. You cultivate others who either resentfully comply or rebel and resist.

Control Method 2: Incentive/Rewarding Approach

What you may not know is that rewards and incentives are counter-productive. You may not have read the significant research on this. When you hold out a carrot, you believe they are basically lazy and selfish and that your job is to motivate them. Accountability is centered on getting others to meet your quotas or goals and what is often less evident is that this cultivates adults and children who hide mistakes, become self-centered and self-serving, rush through things to win the reward, and are competitive rather than collaborative. Rewarding doesn’t foster social interest or teamwork and has been proven to diminish commitment to desired behaviors you are incentivizing to begin with. Rewards discourage others from the intrinsic enjoyment of tasks.

Control Method 3: Judgment Approach

In this approach, the belief you hold about others is that they don’t know any better; that they don’t have your level of wisdom. Like the other two approaches, this one is very top-down, as if you are superior and others inferior. Your approach is to evaluate them, bestowing respect and privileges to them based on judgments you pronounce. The accountability becomes focused on the joy and standards you want. The kinds of people you cultivate are conformists, often brown-noser’s who feel compelled to be pleasers rather than creating from inspiration and their gifts and talents.

Control Method 4: Pampering/Spoiling Approach

In this approach the belief you hold about people is that they can’t – they can’t be generous, courageous and contributing without your over-compensation. They are inadvertently given to and enabled because they are neglected in basic core needs to contribute and connect with others in mutually respectful and reciprocal ways.. Accountability is a hope that those pampered will somehow ignite with self-motivation if provided every advantage while expecting little from them, nor requiring it. The kinds of people cultivated by this method are entitled individuals who interpret their experience as one in which the world owes them; they don’t owe the world. They miss out on the joy of social interest, the fulfillment when we use power to cause improvement in the lives of others.

Because all four of these approaches are focused on extrinsic motivation, they weaken intrinsic motivation. They are discouraging because all are based in low expectations and low faith in the goodness of people. None of us likes to be on the receiving end of that. What’s so difficult is that the more you have low faith in people and use these control methods, the more negative behavior increases, reinforcing your low faith in people and the perceived need for control methods! How do you turn this vicious cycle around?

Alternative Method: Responsibility Approach

In this approach, you hold the belief that people are and like to be great and if they are not acting great, they are not feeling empowered, lovable, connected or contributing no matter how they are acting. In this approach, your job is to be a mentor to others, helping each develop skills while you transfer responsibility to them for their relationships, their motivation and their initiative. This is a much tougher job and requires you have faith in their goodness and want them to enjoy the ownership of their responsibilities in life and work. This approach cultivates caring, self-motivated and productive adults and children and feels much better to both give and receive in the process. If you want support to consistently see and encourage the good in yourself and others, call me.

As published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in Women’s Journals, Oct/Nov 2015  

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