I’ve spent my career studying human nature and why people do the crazy things they do. Understanding human behavior lays the foundation for developing effective risk management and safety programs. You can’t be an effective leader without first understanding human behavior. Since we create safety risk management leadership in driver retention processes, we need a keen understanding of human behavior.
I began my quest to understand what makes people tick back in 1984 when I was suddenly thrust into the role of safety director. I wondered: why do people have accidents? Why do people have injuries? Why do people take risks? I began to read books from the library. Yeah, books. I searched out thought leaders in philosophy, sociology and psychology.
I didn’t necessarily read them in this order, but along the way I studied Socrates and Plato. They weren’t psychologists. They were philosophers. They were trying to understand the human condition. Fast forward a few thousand years in history and I found new and different ideas advanced by Jung, Baron-Cohen and Ekman. I even studied the great crazies including Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche.
In all my years of studying human behavior, I assumed that we were rational beings. In fact, most of our curricula refer to the models put forth by Pavlov and Skinner. It seems so simple. Antecedents (A) lead to behaviors (B) which result in consequences (C). The simple behavioral model of A-B-C. But sadly, it ain’t that simple. We’re not rational.
I found out this week just how flawed we really are. I found a book by Robert Greene. It has a catchy title, “The Laws of Human Nature.” I figured it might make for some light reading while sitting on the beach in Naples, Florida. Within the first seven pages I was mesmerized. Here’s a guy without any advanced degrees telling me that I’m a flawed individual. In fact, telling me that all humans are irrational. And he’s saying it in far more eloquent terms than Jimmy Buffett does when he tells us we’re all Fruitcakes.
As I continued reading, I started to compare these new ideas against my other lifelong love, the pursuit of solving the driver problem. Suddenly it made more sense. Until now, most of us have scratched our heads and wondered why a guy would quit here, go down the street and work for a competitor who a.) pays the same, b.) has the same kind of trucks, c.) runs the same lanes, d.) hauls the same freight and e.) treats him the same way we do. Don’t argue that last point. You know it’s true. But it gets crazier. Why would that same driver do that again, and again, and again, churning through 10, 12 or 15 companies only to find the same old same old, same old everywhere he went?
Now I have the answer. The driver is irrational. He’s not leaving you for logical or rational reasons. He’s leaving you because his emotions are driving his decision-making process. He probably doesn’t even know this is happening. But before we jump to conclusions and judge him or her as inferior, we need to look in the mirror. As Mr. Greene points out, we too are also irrational beings. We don’t think clearly. We make decisions with our hearts not our heads. We’re slaves to several powerful emotions including fear, hate, anger, envy and resentment.
My friend Patrick Renvoise has written extensively on old brain theory. He explains how humans make their decisions, not with their cerebral cortex (their thinking brain), but rather with their old brain. He refers to it as the “reptilian brain” because we share that structure with frogs, snakes and lizards.
We live on the surface, reacting emotionally to what people say or do. We refuse to show them our true self, but instead put a mask on so that we will be accepted. We form opinions of others and ourselves that are overly simplified. And, as we learned from my good friend Chalmers Brothers, we have a constant story going on inside our head. We let that story define who we are and how we fit into the world around us.
Here’s the point. We stink when it comes to judging another person’s character. And that goes for drivers too. We’re quick to judge them. This one’s lazy. This one talks too much. This one’s too picky about loads. We make a snap judgment, put them in a bucket or a box and forget about it. Now we don’t have to think about it. It makes life easier, but it doesn’t help solve our problem.
So, what’s today’s take away? Don’t accept or judge anyone, especially your drivers, on face value. What you see is only on the surface. It’s not who they really are. Get to know them. Dig deeper. Take some time to not only think about them but to also get to know them.
Empathy is putting yourself in their shoes and trying to experience life through their eyes. That’s not sympathy. You’re not feeling sorry for them, you’re trying to feel how they feel and see the world how they see the world. It’s not easy, but even the tiniest effort can make a huge difference. This is the first step in building stronger relationships with your drivers. And one thing we know for sure: stronger relationships lead to better driver retention.
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