Are You Training Organizational Blind Spots?

In order to understand how this may be happening, you must first understand the concept of learned helplessness. 

The condition – discovered many decades ago through a series of tests on dogs – put the dogs in various situations that they were to try and escape. One group of the dogs were given a punishment (a shock) no matter what they did to try and escape the enclosure. 

After so many attempts, and seeing that every attempt to escape would be accompanied by an undesirable result, the dogs finally gave up. This repeated training created a pattern in the brain that was so effective that even when the dogs could escape freely, they wouldn’t even try.

When learned helplessness is talked about at an individual level and from a psychological perspective, it’s often to point out what happens when a person gives up on life. When believing they have no control over a situation and no escape from current stressful realities, a frequent result is depression.

For those that believe they have an escape from the situation, they will choose it. And it’s important to spot the pattern so that it doesn’t manifest in business results, in the form of weak customer ties and less-than-favorable conditions for your employees.

In this case, the “punishment” a customer or employee receives is simply the disappointment of an unfulfilled need – a repeated pattern of being told they won’t be provided something that is being asked.

The pattern is often created after a series of little requests. Questions about how something works. Side comments about how something was difficult. Sometimes full-on complaints about the way a certain situation unfolded.

Repeatedly denied requests, or answers that didn’t truly solve the problem, will manifest in ways that look like:

Low customer conversion
“I couldn’t see how it was going to fit into our current operations, and I just ran out of time to figure it all out.”

Poor reputation
“They’re so hard to work with – every time I ask a question they make me add something else to my list of things to do, or make me come up with another workaround.”

High switching
Either “I don’t care if I have to pay more, this saves me hours of headache.”  
Or “Finally someone came along who understands that this needs to be seamless.”

Disengaged employees
“Why bother saying anything, they’re just going to <fill in the blank>.”

Low productivity
“Why bother working on this, they’re just going to tell me I should have done something else.”

High turnover
“I’m going to go somewhere that better fits the way I want to work and the difference I want to make.”

The problem we are facing is that in order to meet another person’s needs, we have to go against a lifetime of training – a lifetime of training that has taught us to display our experience in order to pass the test, or to ace the interview.

Your customers and employees are not giving you a test. They are not asking you to prove what you know.

They are asking you to understand what they need, and to make the experience more seamless for them. They are asking you to give them the resources they need to be successful, not require you to be the person that always has to be consulted in order for them to be successful. They are telling you that they are seeing something that you are not.

Every interaction is an opportunity to learn more about where the question or comment stems from. But so often, we don’t take these opportunities.

We could say “what makes you ask that?” or “how is that different from what we are currently providing?” Instead, we often say “Here’s how it is. Here’s what you do. Here’s why you’re not doing that right.”

And in doing so, we are training learned helplessness. We are creating a pattern that tells the customer or the employee’s brain “I am not going to get what I need here.”

So the next time someone asks you a question – or even loudly complains – find a way to get at the root of their experience. Ask a few more questions yourself.  

In doing so, you may find a way to respond that lets them know that they do get what they need from you – and you’ll have one less customer and one less employee out the door.

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