We assume people will change. We’ve watched loved ones suffer or complain. We’ve dealt with the consequences of a colleague’s below-average performance, and it’s possible we’ve had a frank exchange with a friend to clarify how their future behaviour needs to be. Some of those people have even acknowledged their problem areas, so surely they will have learnt their lesson? Surely it will be different next time? But it isn’t. And if we’re not careful the whole process of expectation, frustration and disappointment will repeat itself.
Fortunately, our awareness of people’s patterns offers a solution. Knowing that a colleague is always late, or pays too much attention to detail, helps us predict their future behaviour. Maybe they forget to write things down, or they make promises they never keep. Maybe they get too emotional, or play games and manipulate others to get what they want. Whatever their behaviour is now, is a strong indicator of how it will be in the future. Being able to predict what will happen means we can prepare ourselves. Preparation reduces our frustration and increases our effectiveness because, at the very least, we can mitigate the inevitable.
Ideally, of course, we would want the other person to be open to, or even seek feedback on their behaviour and address their shortcomings. And we should always strive to support them, whilst being mindful of the fact that we may be wasting our time, energy and patience; resources which could be more effectively invested in the many others who are willing to listen and grow.
I spoke recently to someone who is alone and has all the hallmarks of a person who has given up on life. He still has more going for him than many people who are much happier than he is, but he has alienated himself from everyone, and those tied to him by family have distanced themselves. As we talked, I offered a thought I have had for some time: ‘What about voluntary work? Surely there is still a contribution you can make to somebody’s life? He answered immediately, his voice suddenly deeper and more final than it had been before: ‘I need someone to contribute to my life.’ I had expected negativity, but not quite such a dismissive, script-affirming statement. I let the subject fall and disappear to a place where it might be found by those who are looking. He is not ready. But maybe one day he will be.
That is an extreme example but still one in which prediction helped me deal with the response. In more positive examples, prediction allows us to help others as well as ourselves. It allows us to be proactive and ensure, for example, that our colleague makes it on time to important meetings, or doesn’t get lost in the detail as a deadline approaches. In that way we are supporting them as best we can: in awareness, and with clarity and purpose. Eventually our perseverance may lead to them assuming control of their own development. But if not, then at least we will not be surprised.