When I was 13 years old I was caught cheating in a test by my teacher, Miss Strano.
I can still remember the sound in my head of us having to say each morning “Gooood morrrning Miss Straano,” in this singsong, manufactured tone of voice.
Being in her class felt like a Gestapo training college.
She taught us how to write ‘properly’.
“Sit up straight, tuck your writing arm elbow into your waist, pen must point out of the window at 45 degrees!”
Since then, my writing is illegible.
The classroom with this woman was the perfect picture of tyranny.
Back to the cheating.
Miss Strano hauled me out of class, called my mother up from the tuckshop and the two of them massacred me in the corridor.
I had the sense that I was the worst piece of junk on the planet. The only thing I remember that was said, was my mother snarling at me, “We aren’t lax with you Mark,“ which was really her way of saying to the teacher, ‘I really am a good mother and this isn’t my fault.’
She took the teacher’s side against me.
I was quite simply, deeply hurt and very traumatized.
I wonder how many teachers are still doing this today, how many parents are still doing this today?
The point is that for me, cheating was truly very aberrant behaviour.
I was a highly sensitive, desperately-needing-to-please little boy, terrified of getting into trouble.
Cheating was not my standard modus operandi and if they had had any sensitivity or communication skill at all, they would’ve seen this and instead of attacking me they would have asked questions in a gentle and kind way, such as “Markie, what made you do this? Were you scared of failing, are you scared of getting into trouble from me the teacher or your mother, are you feeling bad about your grades? Why is it important for you to do well or to not fail?”
Sensitively asked, these questions might have given me the love and the sense of value that I had so longed for. That love may in fact may have prevented me from needing to cheat.
The Corporate World Of Blame
For many years I have played a game in many of the corporate workshops that I run.
Early on in the process I say to the group “A mother walks into the kitchen and there is a jug of broken milk on the floor, what does she say?“
In all but one of the hundreds of groups I have run, someone answers, “Who did this?“
I then lift up the flipchart paper and at the back I reveal what I have written there, “Who did this?“ and then say, “Every group has the same answer to this question, what’s going on in our culture that everybody seems to have the same answer?“
They reply, “It’s about blame.“ I then lift up the back of the flipchart to reveal the words, “Blame culture.”
We are so embedded in this blame culture that we hardly notice it except when it hurts us. Its effect on our lives is immense. It kills Self-Esteem and escalates conflict.
Back To The Cheating…Again
Now you might say that if you don’t come down hard on cheating you are going to have a problem in the long run. Cheating will increase, you will say.
Here’s the thing.
Most people under pressure cannot adapt and change their style of interaction to fit the particular demands of the situation and the personalities of the people involved.
People are in essence victims of their personalities and their personality traits. The traits are controlling them.
A great deal of communication involves being able to adapt and adjust one’s communication to suit the recipient. So perhaps if I was a little psychopath, my mother and Miss Strano’s attitude would have been appropriate.
But I’m not and it wasn’t.
In the business environment, subordinates require different kinds of communication depending on their personality types. Mostly, managers behave precisely like their parents did, dictatorial in the main, sometimes too soft. Certainly very few can vary and adapt their style according to the situation and the personalities of the people involved.
Much of my coaching time with managers and executives is spent helping them to broaden their scope of communication options.
I do the same with parents, hoping that the learnings from the pain I suffered at the hands of Miss Strano and my mother can benefit the lives of the children out there who aren’t really cheats, but happen to be cheating here and there, desperate for love and appreciation and sense of their own worth.
If you would like to meet face to face or via Skype to discuss any issues raised in this blog, drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org