Of Bribery and Labels

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Reframing the Bribery Label

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know how much I sincerely dislike labeling of any kind — especially those labels that come from personal opinion (the kind that seem to squeak right under our conscious “judgment” radar the moment a label slips into common usage).

The labeling category is where the term “bribery” falls for me, and this article is my attempt to reframe it before it slides across the line into the make-wrong category.

Make-wrong is a term used in the coaching community to refer to judgments that might as well be saying, “Anybody sane knows there is a right and a wrong way to do life, and this communication identifies an item on THE unacceptable list” (in contrast to one’s personal unacceptable list).

I must admit that I need to continue working on it my own judgment of the people who use “under the radar” techniques designed to manipulate desired outcomes rather than to request them overtly — but my intense discomfort with the nasty spirit behind many of those so-called “tough love” approaches is only part of the reason I rail against the make-wrong kind of labeling.  

Bottom line: it doesn’t work — at least, it doesn’t work very well, or for very long (unless the goal is simply to make people feel crummy about themselves).

It’s frustrating to my coaching soul when people continue to swear by tools that don’t work.

I believe that the reason that shaming and should-ing doesn’t work (fundamental with make-wrong)  is because it shuts people down.

When judgment and make-wrong make their targets feel bad, they activate the Amygdala (that Danger, Will Robinson part of our brains), which marshals fight-fight-freeze resources at the expense of those areas needed to plan, prioritize, activate and follow-through.

Shutting down Thinking

My quarrel with labels in general is because of that “under the radar” component that encourages us to use a term without thinking about the associated subtext, simply because it has become familiar.

What’s in a name

A label is a name.  As I said in the article introducing my dislike of the “H” in the name for what I will always insist on calling ADD, “Did you know that one of the purposes for names – all nouns, in fact – is to give us a kind of mutually accepted code word to conserve brain resources for more valuable work?”

That “naming” convention streamlines communication so we can discuss the concepts we want to kick around without endless up-front time defining our terms.

And the more specific the terms SEEM to be,
the less apt we are to wonder 

what we mean by them!

Once defined – named – our brains skip right past those “code words” in our eagerness to communicate with one another. The problem is that just as soon as we stop consciously considering the terms we use to define things, it becomes far too easy to use those terms without being aware of the impact of their secondary meanings – not to mention the influence of the subtext that rides along.  

It behooves us to go back, every once in a while, to consider the way that the terms we sling about have been framed — to pull them up and hold them to the light of conscious examination so that we can reframe them, if necessary, before we put them away again.

So what does “bribery” MEAN?

The term bribery refers to the use of an enticement to persuade another to cooperate — an inducement designed to garner compliance with the direction the person offering the bribe wants the receiver to travel.

“I will give you this if you give me that.”

If you think about it, there is very little we’d do without an inducement of some sort. Even a salary can be thought of as a bribe.  I doubt that many of us go to work simply to occupy our days.

Bribery only gets dicey when you take choice and values out of the equation.  The bribes most of us object to have, at base, an element of coersion to them.  Economic inducements to say or do something that we know that our best and highest selves would never do are the bribes that, when they come to light, make headlines.

I think it would be a crying shame to allow the nasty meanings of the usage of the word to coopt the term altogether — to take “bribery” out of circulation as the amazingly effective technique it can be.

An otherwise excellent article I can endorse whole-heartedly entitled Revealed! 10 Guilt Traps for Moms, contains the following text under the heading, Using Bribes:

The child-rearing bible of the moment told you not to use bribes, but when you’re trying to get that stack of paperwork done and your child just won’t stop whining, offering a box of raisins or a favorite video in exchange for few minutes of blessed silence seems mighty tempting. Most parents do use bribes from time-to-time, and it’s not the end of the world. Just try not to make a habit of it.

While I think it’s just swell that author Vanessa Rush is encouraging Mom’s everywhere to let themselves off the SHOULD hook, why is it important to ration the bribes?  I personally believe that they are one of the cleanest, most direct and honest ways to get little kids to cooperate when they’d rather not.

The tricky part is remembering to presence the reality that their satisfaction with accomplishment exists apart from your forking over the agreed upon reward.

And if you really want to transfer the benefits of bribery, teach them how to “bribe” themselves so that they get to experience the “feel good” of accomplishment solo, and for the rest of their lives.

If you want to know how I encourage my clients to use bribery with themselves,
check out the three “cookie posts” from The TaskMaster Series, under the
heading of Reward and Accomplishment, linked immediately below.

If you’re having trouble with activation, follow-through and/or completion, these articles just might be the ticket to help you shed that “procrastination” label for good!

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

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