Old Habits Die Hard: Why Our Workplace Feels So Unstable


Have you ever wondered why you feel uneasy and scared at work?

It could be the economic climate, a crazy co-worker, or maybe an overbearing boss that makes you feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach.

Or maybe it’s your hard-wiring…

In Nigel Nicholson’s Harvard Business Review article, “How Hard Wired is Human Behavior?” he points out that our Stone Age brains still carry some things that may be counter-productive in a modern work culture:

Evolutionary psychology offers a theory of how the human mind came to be constructed. And that mind, according to evolutionary psychologists, is hardwired in ways that govern most human behavior to this day… Life on the Savannah Plain was short and very fragile. The food supply and other resources, such as clothing and shelter, were unreliable and varied in quality. Natural life-threatening hazards abounded. As weak, furless bipeds, human beings’ strength lay in their minds. The thoughts and emotions that best served them were programmed into their psyches and continue to drive many aspects of human behavior today.

These hardwired human behaviors may have distinct advantages and disadvantages in the workplace, as they include:

  • Putting Emotions Before Reason – People often lead with heart, not head.
  • Avoid Risk Except When Threatened – We are programmed to mitigate risk and danger.
  • Confidence Before Realism – Some of us are over-confident and ignore the signs around us.
  • Classification Before Calculus – We tend to bin and categorize before taking the time to study and assess.
  • Empathy – Most of us care about other human beings
  • Competition – We love to compete with ourselves and others, as individuals and within teams.
  • Organization and Hierarchy – We seek structure and form, it’s how we make sense of things.
  • Leadership – Eventually, a leader will rise. They are not born, they are made.

Now, imagine if you could measure someone’s hard wiring, helping them become more self-aware of the drivers that are already imbedded in their brains?

For me, that has been my life’s work, helping people understand their own wiring. I believe the better you understand yourself, the better you will understand others and the world in which we all live.

Stability and security come when we identify the following in ourselves and others:

  • Do We Want to Lead or Follow
  • How We Communicate with Others
  • How We Process Information and Work
  • How Much Information Do We Need to Decide.

Think about how knowing these things opens up a whole new way to see the world.

Nicholson argues,

“Time and time again we have tried and failed to eliminate hierarchies, politics, and inter-organizational rivalry. Evolutionary psychology says it’s time to recognize what we are and use this information to live in harmony with our hard-wiring.”

Maybe it’s time to work with ourselves and others to create the harmony that’s right within our reach.

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