Organizational transformation

Elevator Courtesy and Decision Making

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Actions are often simply physical responses without conscious thought.
  • We’re conditioned at some point to believe that being self-conscious is a bad thing.
  • But the truth is that to make good decisions, especially in organizations where others are involved, we have to be aware of ourselves and be fully conscious.

I was riding the elevator this morning ready to get out on my floor when the doors opened. But when I got there, I couldn’t. Well, at least not until the person who was waiting there decided he needed to get in first.

It’s hard to blame the person completely. I can remember waiting for the elevator a number of times where I’ve been physically ready to just walk on once the doors opened only to realize that there are other people (surprise, surprise) who use it and who, yes, would like to get out first (as it happens to make the process a whole lot easier). But even when I’ve taken a step in before realizing, I’ve always been able to catch myself, apologize, and back up so people could get out.

The broader point this situation made me realize is that often our actions are physical responses that we aren’t even aware of. They just happen. Before you know it you are in a situation (ie: walking into an elevator full of people who want to get out) that with just a bit of hindsight afterwards you realize was not entered into with complete consciousness.

Here’s another classic example. You’re walking down the street and someone is right in front of you about ten feet coming the other way. You make eye contact and realize that one of you will have to move. You move to the right. They move the same. A dodge left and they’re right there again. Repeat. This is usually followed by apologetic smiles as if to say, “I have no idea what my body did just there.” It’s almost as if we’ve outsourced these types of “minor” decisions and therefore don’t really pay attention - except after.

We’re conditioned at some point to believe that being self-conscious is a bad thing. “Don’t be so self-conscious,” is something we’ve all heard at some point and at the complete extremes there is definitely validity.

But the truth is that to make good decisions, especially in organizations where others are involved, we have to be aware of ourselves and be fully conscious. Without confirming that our “gut feeling” decisions and actions are not just knee-jerk physical responses, we run the risk trying to get in when everyone else wants to get out.

Every week, we highlight key transformations and trends. Follow us on Twitter.