Click the boss
One time at a conference I shared a breakfast table with a woman who was an executive in an oil company. Finding out what I do for a living, she expressed a firm belief in reinforcement, and told me the following story.
She had a mean boss. He was brutal: blaming, finding fault, belittling, angry. Everyone was alarmed to see him come into their office and glad to see him go, including the woman who was telling me the story.
"This makes no sense at all," she told herself. So she developed a tactic. When he came to talk to her, if his tone was pleasant, she looked at him. If his words became unpleasant, she looked away. If the voice became normal again, she looked back. When the boss stayed calm, she offered him candy.
By and by, he got nicer. Poor man, she thought, probably no one is ever nice to him, since he preempts any conversation with angry behavior.
The boss began to be calmer with others, so much so that people were commenting that he seemed to be in a good mood lately. So then the woman passed on her "secret"—look away and look back. Everyone tried this, and the whole climate of the office changed. Now she's happy, and so is everyone else, a lot more work gets done, and people even stay late sometimes.
Message from Mimi
I was telling my upstairs neighbor this story, and she said, "That's what Mimi does." Mimi is a petite cream-colored Burmese cat, now quite elderly, that used to belong to me. She stayed with this neighbor when I travelled. Eventually, since it's a lot less boring upstairs where several people live than it is in my first-floor apartment with just me, Mimi moved upstairs permanently and has lived there ever since.
But remember, she was once my cat, so Mimi is a clicker cat and knows about behavior.
My neighbor went on to explain:
"Mimi looks away when she doesn't like what I'm doing. And when she likes it, she looks right at me with this warm, bright-eyed, eager expression. I'd do anything to earn that expression! So she's taught me what she likes and what she doesn't like. In fact she's taught everyone in the house. Take Robert, for example. Mimi's sitting on his lap and he's scratching her chest. After a while, she looks away. Oops! Robert stops scratching. 'She told me that was enough scratching; she looked away.' Mimi doesn't want to leave, because he's warm and cozy and she likes sitting on his lap, but she made her thoughts clear."
The cat knows what works for her!
Try this at home, at work, in the neighborhood, at the market…
Do you have a nagger, a whiner, a blamer, or a teaser in your life? Those behaviors are commonplace because they work. You give people who behave this way attention, even in just trying to stop them. How about trying what my breakfast companion and Mimi knew? Looking away, by itself, doesn't do the trick. It's the looking BACK (perhaps with Mimi the cat's smiling eyes?) in the instant the unpleasant tone stops that makes it work.