Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Worst Way To Get Someone To Do What You Want

Yesterday, a bike ride took me to what are locally referred to as "the Ballard Locks" (officially called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks) a century old facility built and run by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Boating season is in full swing here in the great Northwest which makes it a busy time at the locks as pleasure boats swell the usual commercial traffic going to and from our fresh water lakes and the Puget Sound.

I'm not the only cyclist who uses the lock bridgeways to cross from Magnolia to Ballard and there are signs asking, "Please walk bikes," a reasonable request given that the locks are often crowded with tourists watching the water elevators at work. Still, it alway irks me slightly when I see, below what appears to be a polite, common sense request, a small note that violators may be fined $75. I don't know, maybe the threat of a fine is the only thing that works on some cyclists, but in all my years of crossing the locks I've never seen anyone fail to dismount. And maybe I'm only speaking for myself, but the polite request is enough. I don't need the threat; in fact, the threat makes me want to disobey.

As I got to the locks themselves, boats were filling up the small lock, queuing up along the sides, tethering their vessels as required. I noted that there were no signs visible, at least from where I stood, telling them to do any of this. Maybe they had received radio instructions or maybe the threatening signs were posted somewhere down by the waterline, but it looked a lot like straight-forward cooperation from the various boat captains and crews. 

There were men along the edges, corps of engineers employees, helping the boaters secure themselves. I passed a pair of them as they awaited a vessel to get to where they stood and overheard part of their conversation:

"It's not my job to tell people how to drive their boats. You ever tried to tell people how to drive their boats? It pisses them off."

If you tell a child, "Don't eat those cookies," most will steal one from the plate the moment your back is turned, while those who resist will just obsess over the thought of eating one. If you ask me to walk my bike, I'll do it gladly, but threaten me and I might not. Tell someone how to drive their boat and it pisses them off. Children don't want to disappoint, I don't want to inconvenience the tourists, and boaters don't want to damage their boats or the boats of others, yet we are born to rebel when commanded, often even when it goes against our own best interests or values.

On the flip side, we are also born to cooperate and given the chance we dismount, we queue up, and we save that cookie for later.

In other words, one of the worst ways to get someone to do what you want is to tell them to do it. 

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Jeni said...


John S Green said...

Perfect... maybe for some one...

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