Your Boss Is a Monkey

This Fast Company article was inspired by a woman who studied animal trainers who could teach whales not to spit, dolphins to jump through hoops, and monkeys to ride skateboards. She asked herself: "What if I used those techniques on my husband?!"

The Heath brothers, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die apply this approach to another irritable mammal: your boss.

Their suggestion: "Maybe you should start treating him or her like an exotic animal."

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Exotic-animal trainers need a great poker face. Let's say you're a trainer, and one day, a beluga whale spits a mouthful of cold water at you. Your first instinct will be to shriek or jump or curse, but any reaction will probably reinforce the spitting. If you react, that whale will own you, and you'll be a Spit Bull's-eye for the rest of your life. Instead, you must ignore it and appear unfazed, expressionless -- a training technique called "least-reinforcing scenario," or LRS.

Animal trainers have a saying: It's never the animal's fault. That means you can't blame an animal for something the trainer has failed to do. Similarly, you can't fault your boss's bad behavior when you've failed to use some of the primary principles of training. Rule one, as we've seen with the yeller, is to ignore bad behavior.

If you've ever grudgingly tossed your dog a french fry after 15 minutes of begging, you've taught the dog a lesson -- persistence pays. So what are you inadvertently teaching your boss?

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