The fact that children learn angry and manipulative behaviors doesn’t mean they spend all their waking hours being abusive or manipulating others. As a counter-balance to wanton efforts to control the environment, children are also “socialized” (hopefully) so they learn that rampant controlling behavior is not always positively rewarding, and is often frowned upon by others. Again, in the teen years, adult “rules” have not yet sunk in, so teenagers tend to show more unfettered manipulation of others — i.e. Hostile behavior.
So here’s a question. If most people learn that abusive, and aggressive behavior is not acceptable, how is it that we see so much of it?
One reason is that some people don’t learn that this aggressive behavior is inappropriate. Another is that they’ve learned ways to justify bad behavior (rationalizations) to themselves. These are the people who are “rude and proud of it”.
What about the others? What about people who know that aggressive behavior is not acceptable? A lot of “regular” people, use aggressive and manipulative techniques. Perhaps every one of us does, at least sometimes. A little more knowledge about human behavior can help us understand why people use hostile behavior.
Learning is a funny thing. It isn’t a question of whether something is learned or not, but rather how well something is learned, that dictates whether it is used. In other words some things are not learned well, others are learned pretty well, and some things are learned very well, to the point where the person doesn’t even have to think about carrying out the learned tasks. Some examples of the latter include driving, tying shoelaces, walking, and in fact many every day things we do without having to think about them.
We call these latter actions, over learned actions – things that are learned really well, and practiced so often and so well that the person is unlikely to forget.
We also know that under normal circumstances a person who has learned something “pretty well”, will use what they have learned when and if it is appropriate and its use seems rational to the person. The person thinks, decides, then acts. This chain of events happens quickly, but there’s a decidedly rational or “thought out” component.
The exception occurs when the person is emotionally upset. When people are upset they revert back to earlier, more primitive and better learned behavior.
Consider a regular person who has learned a number of communication skills effective in conflict and problem solving situations. Normally, when faced with situations where he/she is not overly upset, the person uses these constructive skills. The problem comes when the person is very angry, Adrenaline pumps. Emotions have started the climb into overdrive.
If the person becomes sufficiently “activated”, he or she will revert back to behavior learned earlier in life (and therefore well practiced and over learned). What behaviors? You guessed it. The more primitive, angry and aggressive behaviors that worked in early life, re-emerge in the normally rational, calm adult. That’s what happens with your hostile customers.
As a test of this, have you ever noticed that adults who are hostile and aggressive often behave like small children? They are reverting to older, over learned behavior.
Some hostile customers are habitually nasty. Most, though, are normally rather polite people who have let their emotions run away from them. Out comes the more childish behaviors they have over learned during their lives.
Consider also that most hostile customers, although they may appear to be trying to consciously manipulate you, are not plotting and scheming to get you.
It doesn’t work that way. Reversion just happens and it usually does not involve conscious intent. Very few individuals actually plot out aggressive strategies in a conscious manner. In a sense most people are just acting human when they become more aggressive. They are doing what they are able to do, and what they are “good at”. Given their emotional states, they automatically go back to what they know how to do well (i.e. that which was learned long ago, and well practiced).
This does not excuse abusive behavior. The point here is that those people react to their internal states, not to you personally.