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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

1/26/2007

The Power of Self Interest

In Framework’s cultural interventions, one of the ways in which individuals transform themselves is by recognizing that some of their current actions are not in their own self-interest.

Often, we humans struggle to understand each other. In the workplace, management struggles to understand workers and vice versa, as motivations appear to be not just hidden but alien to their own.

In the not-so recent news, RBTT Jamaica announced that they had accomplished record profits. This week, a strike was averted when the management decided, at the eleventh hour, to change its offer of an increase in wages from 4% to 6%.

I imagine that some workers are wondering why the bank’s management and ownership cannot see that treating them well is the key to making even greater profits in the future. In other words, workers think management cannot see that it would be serving its own interests by granting the increase that the workers are (at this point) demanding.

By the same token, management is probably asking itself why the workers cannot see that putting more of the profits into wages rather than new investments means slowly killing the goose that laid the golden egg, by starving the bank of opportunities to grow itself.

What might be missing at the moment (and this is pure conjecture on my part) is that management and workers do not share the same self-interest. In other words, they cannot see it or separate it from the other points of view that are competing for their attention.

A powerfully defined self-interest would change everything, and it would not even have to be the same for both.

To illustrate, every spiritual and wisdom tradition that I am aware of counsels against holding grudges.

Why so?

Can the truth be found in this old saying: “Revenge is like drinking poison, hoping that someone else will die.”

A grudge is a self-sentence, as it imprisons the one holding the grudge to a life of vigilance – watching to make sure that the person they have mentally imprisoned never escapes.

Unfortunately, the person holding the grudge is unable to see their own full self-interest, and can only see the passing benefit they feel from blaming the person.

In reality, the other person might well be leading a happy, fulfilled life. They cannot be aware of the depth of the grudge (indeed, no-one can.) The torment that the grudge produces is experienced for the most part in the mind of the one holding the grudge.

Holding on to it is just not in their self-interest.

In our interventions we focus on training employees to manage their own self-interest in an enlightened way. We have found that if an employee can appreciate and accept more of their own self-interest, they make better choices.

When coaching an individual, we might ask:
a) What is your self-interest?
b) What are you doing to accomplish it?
c) What are you doing that is working against it?
d) How can you better meet your self-interest?
e) What other self-interests do you now see?

What we have found is that telling someone that they should “be less selfish” does little more than make them feel guilty, and is a difficult leap for many employees to make in a working environment, as companies are not created to accomplish moral goals. Instead, companies are formed with the clear intention to achieve material goals, and at the source of every corporation is a person or group of persons that were unabashedly pursuing a self-interest.

The real problems come when individuals and companies lie about their self-interest, and insist that they either “don’t have one” or are “above such things.” These lies prevent the kind of truthful cooperation that produces partnerships, in which, for example, both managers and workers are honest about their self-interests, and can plainly see that they must cooperate to accomplish them.

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