No More Lollipops

Some of our biggest problems are self inflicted. One of the worst is a mental mistake called “judging others by ourselves.”

Young children do this all time. If they like lollipops, they just assume everybody likes lollipops.

baby lollipop by Stacey Lynn Photography
Baby with lollipop, by Stacey Lynn Photography

Young managers do this too. (I’ve taken to calling this childish error the “lollipop mistake.”)

The “lollipop mistake” caused Joshua to sabotage his relationship with a key client. It also caused Sandra to mismanage one of her people. Fortunately, there is a simple mental trick you can use to protect yourself from this mistake.

When Joshua was delivering a project for a key client, the client, Chris, started getting upset. Joshua was “going dark” on the client – letting hours or days pass without updating him on how the project was progressing. After all, since Joshua knew everything was fine, then the client should (somehow) know it too.

Then on the crucial Friday Joshua came on site, brought Chris into a room with all the subcontractors, and proceeded to do what he later described to me as “an awesome job” of dividing up the work, walking all the subs through their project tasks, and then sent them off with their marching orders.

Anybody with Joshua’s knowledge would have been impressed, and Joshua delivered his part of the work and went away convinced Chris was impressed and pleased. That night the client, Chris, sent several irate emails that went to the wrong mailbox – Chris had misspelled Joshua’s email address.

Joshua, obviously, didn’t reply, and on Monday Chris called him on the phone to fire him.

Afterward, Joshua wanted to be validated and vindicated.

“I did a great job! Anybody could see that,” he exclaimed. “And it wasn’t my fault I didn’t reply to emails that were sent to the wrong address. He can’t blame me for that.”

That’s not true. The client can blame you for failures to communicate, and if the client thinks something is true, then it is true unless you can demonstrate the opposite.

Joshua fully expected Chris to watch a meeting and reach the exact same conclusion Joshua reached – that the project was going well and everything was under control.

That is false, foolish and wrong.

The only person who reaches conclusions like you, is you.

The only person with your way of looking at the world, is you.

The reality of projects is, you have a positive obligation to inform people of what’s going on.

The “lollipop mistake” showed up for Sandra when she tried to manage how much work one of her line workers, Pat, was given.

Pat is on salary. She always stays late at the office, and never seems to get things done as quickly as others. Sandra just assumed Pat was slow – a not unreasonable guess – and started taking work away from her so that Pat would “catch up.”

This never happened.

No matter how much work Sandra took away, Pat was always staying after hours, and made little progress at turning around work more quickly.

It turns out, Pat had a terrible marriage and hated going home. She also felt a sense of comfort from having a certain amount of work lined up ahead of her, and would grow anxious if it seemed she was “running out of work.” This caused her to slow down and become excessively perfectionistic about the little work she had to do.

Sandra’s biggest mistake was assuming that Pat wanted to leave “on time” — Sandra assumed it because that’s what Sandra wanted, and of course (as the “lollipop mistake” says): if I want something, everyone must want it too.

lollipop eyes by Juliana Coutinho
Stop hiding behind that Lollipop - that's for suckers. (Image by Juliana Coutinho)

Have a lollipop.

(The second mistake was taking work away. As Mark Hostman and Michael Auzenne of “Manager-Tools.Com” put it, you can and should expect your people to get more efficient over time.  When someone is struggling, have them write down all their tasks, and tell them to take a first shot at prioritizing those tasks. More on that another day.)

You can overcome the “lollipop mistake” in just a few minutes by changing your thinking. Joshua and Sandra need to reverse their reasoning.

The “lollipop mistake” consists of three mental steps:

  1. look at odd behavior,
  2. say “I wouldn’t do that,” and
  3. express bafflement.

Reverse this. The trick is to be accepting and inquisitive:

  1. start with the behavior,
  2. say “he’s doing that because it makes sense to him,” and
  3. express curiosity.

Remember that other people are motivated, not by your values, but by their values.

Listen. Respect other people’s behavior and decisions as being illustrations of their values. Once you stop judging and condemning, and start respecting and listening, you’ll be far more effective.

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