One of the fun things about being human, is discovering that you don’t always know why you do certain things.

We are very good at justifying things after the event, so we don’t always notice. I remember the story of a newly-married woman who, every Sunday morning when she was putting the roast in the oven, would carefully slice the top two inches off the piece of meat, and lay it alongside the larger piece in the oven tray.

After some months of observing this, her husband finally plucked up courage to ask, “Why? Why do you always slice the top off the roast?”

His wife was baffled. “Um. We always did when I was growing up. It’s just… what we do…”

Next time they visited her parents, the husband asked his mother-in-law about the whole thing. “Your daughter slices the top off the roast because you always did. But why?”

The mother-in-law laughed out loud. “Oh that’s so funny! When she was small, we had a very small oven in our little kitchen. I had to slice the top off the roast most weeks, or it wouldn’t fit in the oven. She must have just copied that without realising why I did it.”

Well that is funny enough, but what about the funny, apparently illogical things you and I do? And sometimes they aren’t so funny. Someone says something, or does something and you react. If we ask you why you reacted that way, you can probably justify it, and it may even sound like sense.

But here’s the thing: your reasonable explanation of why you reacted is probably no more accurate than the wife’s explanation as to why she was topping the roast.

The truth is, all of us have a suite of reactive behaviours that are unconscious, generally counter-productive, and - if only we understood it - which are actually an attempt to get the world around us to start behaving the way it should (meaning, the way we expect it to behave). These reactive behaviours may or may not resemble our usual approach to things. Let me tell you one of mine.

I am fairly low key, so when leading a team, will tend to ask people what they think, where we all think we should be going and so on. That’s my Usual Style.

Underneath that, though, my expectation of the world around me is that authority matters, that it should be respected and that if authority needs to be delegated, that should be done very clearly, so that everyone always knows, who is in charge. You couldn’t guess that by observing me: it is what goes on inside. In hoozyu and Birkman we call this Need. (Because it is how I need people around me to behave).

What happens when that Need - that expectation of others - is not met? Well, I suddenly become very directive, and very different from the low key person you thought I was. I remember when our kids were smaller, it would be the weekend and Sarah would tell me that we needed to get everyone out for a walk (clearly exercised authority: that works for me). So I would go down and find the kids and say (very pleasantly) “Hey kids, let’s all jump in the van and go for a walk.” (Sounds like an invitation, not a command, right: low key Usual Style). Unfortunately, if the response was the usual “no, we don’t want to, you can’t make us, etc etc” from some or all of the tribe, I would suddenly get a little more definite about things. I hope I don’t need to spell it out. Phrases like “Get in the van” and “Or else” spring to mind.

So - ask me why I was doing that, and I would tell you it was because of the kids behaving badly. But actually, I had confused them: I made it sound like an invitation, but what they didn’t know was that it was an “invitation” from the boss; in my world view that meant, they should be saying “yessir, right away”. When they didn’t my reaction was to become extremely assertive.

Before you think too badly of me, what are your unconscious reactions like? You can check them out in your hoozyu. Go to the section called Stress Check. You will have one item about demotivation, which is to do with your Interests; but the others are all descriptions of specific Stress Behaviours. See which ones you recognise, and drill down.

Who knows, you might even realise you don’t need to cut the top off the roast any more.