It's Nothing to Sneeze About
By Peter L DeHaan
few years ago, I had a strange revelation. It all
began with a sneeze. In doing so, I realized that I
sounded just like my dad. Not that there is
anything wrong or strange about how my dad sneezes, just that it is
distinctive. At first, I chalked this up to simple
heredity. But why then did it take four decades for
me to become cognizant of this similarity? A quick
empirical look at how other family members performed this
uncontrollable reflex did not support any sort of genetic connection.
Indeed, everyone else did, in fact, have a unique sneeze.
that time, I have become aware of other mannerisms and gestures that
my dad and I share. My conclusion is that this is
not a byproduct of genes, but rather environment. More
succinctly, as I spend more time with my father, I become more like
him. If this went no further than physical
idiosyncrasies, this would be a trivial observation. But
there are more valuable and influential characteristics that I
subconsciously learned from dad over the years. A
good, strong work ethic is a prime example. Dad
never told me to work hard and diligently – he merely did so and I
emulated his example. Others traits include
integrity, honesty, caution, sound decision-making, carefulness with
what I say, and an analytical prowess.
I unknowingly learned these things by being around my dad, what sort
of things do those who spend time with me discover and then model?
While I hope they absorb good and positive traits, I fear that
they may also be acquiring some less admirable tendencies.
Each time a child, friend, employee, or client treats me in a
less than desirable manner, I ask myself, “Did they pick this up
from me?” “Are they mirroring what they have
seen me do?”
parents see things in their children that they do not like, they often
do some soul searching and ask, “Where did they learn this?” and
“What did I do wrong?” Although, children have
many spheres of input and influence, parents are a key source.
The saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,”
is accurate and correct. Words can influence and
direct, but actions are the prime training tools. And
when actions match words, a strong and consistent message is sent.
have seen this same principle carry over to the work place as well, to
both with employees and clients. First, consider
clients. Every business has a few “difficult”
clients – the kind that one wishes would just go away. But
if a company has all difficult clients, some tough introspection is
warranted. Quite simply, one might wonder, “are
my ‘bad’ clients merely treating me the way I treat them,
according to what I taught them?” I once saw this
dramatically demonstrated through an acquisition, where the prior
owners were – well – less than honorable in their client
interactions. Dealing with their client base was
quite a challenge. It took several years to get
those clients to stop yelling at managers, cursing staff, and
aggressively challenging every bill. But who is to
blame them? They were simply responding as they had
been taught, according to how the former owner acted towards them.
the employee aspect, I have seen this occur on several levels.
First, through witnessing how a shift supervisor destroyed the
effectiveness of the employees on her shift. Her
staff became lazy, took extra long breaks, and lost all loyalty
towards the company. The worst offenders were fired
and replacements hired and trained; yet, they quickly fell into the
same mode. Eventually the supervisor was
investigated, revealing the reality that her position of authority was
too much for her to handle. She had become lazy,
took long breaks, and had no respect for her employer. Her
charges were merely emulating the negative characteristics of their
supervisor. A new supervisor was brought in and
things slowly turned around.
dramatically, I have seen this happen throughout an entire office.
It seemed that a good employee could not be found in the entire
city. Each new hire turned out to be a liar, a
manipulator, and a denigrator of company policy and procedure.
Alas, after endlessly turning over staff, the manager was
scrutinized. Ultimately, the manager’s true
colors were revealed, I found that she was a compulsive liar,
shamelessly manipulated her staff, and had open contempt for company
policy and executive directives. This manager was
let go and suddenly good employees could be found. Though
it took years to negate her damaging example, the office slowly began
to function as it should.
I have had situations where a company owner laments over his terrible
employees. His staff continually falsifies time
cards, steals company supplies and assets, and lodges complaints and
files lawsuits on a seemingly continuous basis. The
owner is truly perplexed at why this is happening, but to even a
casual outsider the cause is clear. For the owner
underreports income on his tax return, cheats his employees out of
their rightful pay, and threatens to sue every vendor or client who
not all children, friends, clients, and employees are perfect, but
when a consistent trend of unacceptable behaviors is evident within
the entire group, it might be time to look at one’s self and one’s
actions. After all, what we do is nothing to sneeze
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