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Words ≠ Actions

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Behavioral science suggests that words and actions are different. Yes we all know this as common sense but yet we don’t always remember it at work and at home.

Saying something, taking a test, creating a rule, policy, or process, is a set of words controlled by one set of factors whereas doing those things described in the words when you’re at work is controlled by a completely different set of factors.

It’s a mistake to assume the words and actions they represent are driven by the same factors, and this gets us into all kinds of trouble at work and frustrations in life.

This is why we have speed signs people don’t follow, safety rules people violate, meetings that people miss or don’t prepare for, and emails that people don’t read or act on. At home, the kids won’t go to bed when you ask them because they know you’ll let them stay up later if they are persistent enough.

Why do we assume that words on a page will cause people to ACT in a way that is dictated by them?

Our actions may be partially controlled by rules and written or spoken policies, but mostly we act in accordance with the physical and psychological environment we’re in.

Where do you see verbal or written requests failing at work or at home?

Reply in the comments or send me a note at with your thoughts and ideas.

*This originally appeared on LinkedIn. If you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

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