Are we doomed to repeat?

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

In any human resources course or recruitment training, you will come across a behavioural interviewing premise that goes something like this: past performance predicts future behaviour.

If you are sitting on the opposite side of the table being interviewed, you will recognize it in questions that start like this: “Give me an example of…” or “Tell me about a time when…”. And instead of what your textbooks or training suggest you should say, what the interviewer really wants to know is when the rubber hit the road, what did you actually do? Cause they know that research shows  past performance predicts future behaviour.

Even if you’ve never read an HR book or sat through interview training, you are most certainly familiar with how much easier it is to talk about a thing, than to do it (I can provide no more effective example of this than in parenting: “do as I say, not as I do!”). Not to mention that there are far more emotional dynamics and extenuating circumstances in a real-life scenario than you will ever find in a thesis topic or project.

What would you do if…” can elicit a very different, and arguably more accurate response, than “What did you do when…” .

(As an aside, you may be asking, “so does this mean I’ll never get the job if I admit to making a mistake?“ No, because these questions are very often rounded out with the redemption prompt: “Would you do anything differently if faced with this situation again?”. )

But on a grander scale, does this mean we are doomed to repeat past mistakes? If past performance predicts future behaviour, does that mean our decision making methodology is somewhat involuntary or sub-conscious?

This premise has seen much success in the employment context, hence its frequent use, but as a stay-at-home mom, I now wonderof its validity in our personal, emotionally-charged world of relationships, parenting, and family. Do we apply the same decision-making methodologies as sub-consciously at home that we do in the workplace?

A friend of mine recently asked for my opinion on an emotionally charged decision he was making. A decision upon which I had a very clear and opposing opinion than the one he was hoping to hear.

I knew if I told him straight out he was about to make a mistake, he would quickly slot me into the camp of non-supporters and choose not to ask for my opinion again. Simply put, he could not see the forest for the trees, and was about to demonstrate future behaviour that was consistent with his past performance.

I had to break the pattern. So I reversed the role, putting myself in his shoes, and described all the details of my own (imaginary but coincidentally similar) decision, including the (wrong) side I was leaning towards in making the decision, and asked him, “what should I do?”. He was very quick to apply a moral compass to the problem that had the clarity of no personal emotions involved (and happily, was consistent with the right choice for his own life). Wow.

So are we doomed to repeat? Does it make a difference if the decision is emotionally clouded? Do we make choices differently if it is a domestic decision as oppose to professionally based, or is our methodology hard-wired?

Makes me want to return to work just to test out a new model in interviewing 🙂


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