You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

January 24, 2013
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a classic children’s book about a little boy who has a day where absolutely everything that can go wrong does. We’ve all had those days. You can’t fall asleep one night, your alarm never goes off in the morning, and you wake up late for work. After a myriad of other things happening, you finally get out the door and run smack into traffic, which makes you even more late. And all this happens within your first hour of being awake!

Think back. How did a bad morning or day affect your attitudes and emotions at work? Did you snap unnecessarily at a coworker who was asking a simple question or just saying “Good morning”? Were you productive at work or did your bad attitude stick around the whole day and pollute others?

This is a good example of how Precipitating Factors can be a huge consideration in the workplace. Precipitating Factors are internal or external causes that influence behavior, over which a staff member has little or no control. I always like to visualize a soda can that, everytime something we perceive as negative happens, gets shaken. What happens when an unknowing person opens that shaken can? An explosion of foam, mess, and stickiness.

Did that coworker who asked you a question know you had a rough morning? Did they have any idea why you snapped at them? I’m sure after your response they figured that something was wrong, but they still didn’t know what had caused you to react that way. They had no control over your behavior. You can only control yourself.

The kind of morning I described is a common example of why someone would exhibit acting-out behaviors (yelling, making a rude comment, etc). However, Precipitating Factors can run much deeper than simply causing you to be being cranky and late for work. Family problems, attention seeking, some kind of failure, and many other factors can be causes for someone to act out uncharacteristically.

We need to remember that everyone has their own Precipitating Factors they’re dealing with that we are unaware of. In the same way the old phrase says “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” you can’t tell what a person is really like or base an opinion of them on a short interaction with them. Coworkers, customers, waitresses, workers at the DMV, cashiers, and others all struggle with Precipitating Factors that could affect their behavior toward you. Even though you cannot control their behavior, being aware that there is more going on than meets the eye can lead to a much more pleasant interaction for all.

Feel free to share examples of how you have dealt with Precipitating Factors and check back soon for our next post!

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