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“‘Spitting in the soup’ was developed by the renowned therapist Alfred Adler. Adler recognized that stirring up change can be difficult. Spitting in the soup is a memorable metaphor. It reminds us that sometimes it is necessary to spoil the fun in order to alter negative patterns and create positive behavior change. Add spit to the soup and it is ruined. “Spitting in the soup,” takes the joy out of the negative behavior patterns of others.”

Adam Kirk Smith, Author

I remember a leader yelling at me, “How can you tell us to stop using rewards!? You’re leaving us with nothing to motivate people! How could incentives be wrong – they work!?” Eventually he came around but it was not easy. He’d been in leadership for 31 years. He didn’t want to go out of his way or consider something he’d used for years, was actually counter-productive. And that’s not the half of it. Incentives and rewards are just one of four control models common and at the root of many bad outcomes. That’s why in my work, I constantly ‘spit in the soup.’ What soup you ask? The soup of using control models. I take something that looks wholesome and healthy to many and make it so unappealing so that people begin to want something better.

People are always motivated. It’s not anyone’s job to motivate others. People can control themselves. They can do what’s right and don’t need approval or shaming to do so. They don’t need to be enabled. The problem is we don’t have faith in people nor do we know how to effectively teach them to pick up responsibility for things that are theirs to own. When we learn to do so, others can become accountable, caring and fully engaged, making a positive difference in your business.

The notion of dismantling control models and learning how to create a responsibility-based, purpose-based company is your way to everything you desire. In order to dismantle them however, you must consider first how they are cause terrible impacts:

  • They reinforce limiting beliefs about people: “People can’t be trusted. People are selfish and lazy. People aren’t as wise as the one in charge. People can’t do
  • They reinforce domination: ‘I’ must manage, motivate, judge and pamper people to get them to be decent and caring.
  • They reinforce co-dependency: “Just do what I say (because I’m the boss!) Just meet my goals! Just please me! Just let me do it! (you can’t)”
  • They cultivate poor behaviors: rebellion, resentful compliance, selfishness, competition, brown-nosing, disgust, win-lose, mediocrity, confusion, anger, distrust and entitlement.

People are powerful and yet have not been given honoring guidance for how to use their power, how to set intentions, live by purpose and values and enjoy creative collaboration and mutual respect. Because of control models, they act out and then their bad behavior reinforces in the minds of many, the continued use of control; a vicious cycle right under our noses that is difficult to recognize and stop.

No one is more important than another. No one deserves to be dominated. No one should be bribed and no one should be given up on. I see the correlation between control models and poor behavior, yet so many others do not until they reflect upon this. They rely on the very systems designed to manipulate desired behavior. They are hard to stop using, because control is widely endorsed, seems to work (and quickly), and make those in charge feel powerful when they otherwise would not.

In all the years I have worked with people to help them understand how to create high performance, I realize meaningful change cannot occur without dismantling control models and adopting a responsibility-based model instead.  This is no small feat. People everywhere are steeped in control and they can’t see these very systems ARE the problem. I hope you will look at this soup long and hard and consider the spit in it. Only then will you become curious and willing to cook up something so much better than you have ever done before!

This article is the 71st to be published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly in the column The Extraordinary Workplace, February 2020.

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