Me, Brad Pitt… and behaviour.

13th February 2020

This is completely true. I’ve been told I’m one of the rudest people on the planet. I don’t mean to be. And, I can understand why people who don’t know me, may think that. Okay, so, what’s this got to do with the gorgeous Brad Pitt? Well, we have something in common – Prosopagnosia. Otherwise known as face blindness. It means our brain can’t identify, recall or recognise faces. Even our own!

At a recent Academy Awards luncheon, Brad Pitt was handed a name badge to wear. It very quickly became the subject of conversation on social media and in the press, with cries of – ‘why would you give Brad Pitt a name badge – he has one of the most instantly recognisable faces in the world’. But here’s the thing. If I met him, I wouldn’t know who he was. To me, I just assumed wearing a badge helped him identify individuals in a room full of people.

When I see people, who don’t know me that well, they think I’m being rude because I don’t remember them. They have no idea that my brain doesn’t focus on faces. I look everywhere else – just not their face! Because of my behaviour, they assume I’m being ignorant. It’s nothing personal and, as strange as this may sound, I don’t even recognise my own face. I do have coping mechanisms in place though, to help me remember people who I meet up with regularly. When I explain my situation, people see me differently – through a completely different lens. They adapt their behaviour to help me by saying hello and who they are when we get together. Or, like Brad, wearing a name badge at a conference or, keeping their hair or physical appearance the same.

Because we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s brain, we make assumptions based on their behaviour and who they are. All too often, our interpretation is based on our social norms.  We can assume way too much.

So, how does this align with the leadership of health, safety and wellbeing? Well, a definition of leadership is the ability to influence what other people say or do, in other words their behaviour. Trying to change someone’s behaviour is much trickier than trying to change the environment around them, e.g., wearing name tags. But, by asking a simple set of questions, we’re far more likely to be aware of what’s going on – and to positively influence the environment. On a human level, it shows you care and are  genuinely interested in what your employee thinks and feels. In the long run, this can help build rapport, trust and a more psychologically safe environment.

Next time an employee is behaving in an unexpected way, or completely out of character, rather than telling them what to do, try to understand why this might be and what could be preventing or enabling their behaviour.

Written by Sarah Prince – Health & Safety Leadership & Behaviour Specialist 

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