Lessons from Halloween: A Study in Human Behaviors

The people who know me outside of work, or who know my family, know that we live on a street in a town that takes its Halloween very seriously. Our street has become Halloween central in our town, drawing kids from lots of surrounding communities above and beyond just our own. I keep an accurate count of the number of kids that come by, and this year was an all-time record… slightly less than 1900 kids…. 1,830 last night to be exact.

It is like this every year, other than 2020. Add in all the parents, and that is a lot of people walking up to your front door in a 3.5 hour window. And among a few other items of note, an experience like that is also always a study in human behaviors. You get a decent sample size of how most people conduct themselves. And while there are always a few bad experiences and really disappointing behaviors, the overwhelming experience every year is entirely positive. The vast majority of children offer huge smiles and big “thank you’s.” The vast majority of parents express gratitude and respect. And so, while I always end the night exhausted, I also always end up feeling good about my interactions with the people in my community. There were two pretty disappointing parent interactions last night. But only two. 

There is an important lesson and reminder here, that goes well beyond Halloween and handing out candy. There is a tendency among many people to focus on the negatives, or the mistakes, or the problems that exist. You see it all over the place… in the news… on social media… the things that get called out at work. There is this natural human tendency to call out the things that are wrong, or the mistakes that get made. 

And when we all take a look in the mirror to consider what kind of professional, colleague, leader or person we are, it might be helpful to spend a moment and think about the types of things we notice, call out and focus on with the people around us.

If your team is like mine, the vast majority of things they do get done at a very high level. And if your team is like mine, mistakes also get made. But when we speak to or about our teams, what do we focus on? What things get called out in meetings? What are the first things that get mentioned behind closed doors? Do we focus on the few things that are done less well? Or rather do we focus on the vast majority of things done very well?

This is important to think about. Because the things we call out tend to have a disproportionate impact on the tone and culture within the team. And the things we call out are a choice. Yes… a choice

I am not saying “don’t call out mistakes.” If a mistake gets made, it needs to be corrected. But I am saying “don’t ONLY call out mistakes.” Call out the positives and good behaviors just as much, or more than, the negatives and the bad behaviors. It will set a much stronger tone within your team. The team will feel better about itself. And, conversely, you will get a better reaction when mistakes are made, and you do call it out.

Last night, my family and I handed out candy to nearly two thousand kids. And while there were two interactions with parents that really were regrettable, the vast majority of the people we met were positive, grateful, and respectful. It would be a terrible thing to focus on the two bad experiences amidst a sea of great ones. And that is the point I made to my kids last night when we finally turned off the lights.

If you want to be a better professional, colleague or leader, then think hard about the things you notice and the things you discuss in the workplace. And if the vast majority of things you see are positive, then the vast majority of comments you make should be also.

Have a great day.

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.