Lessons from a Disgruntled Coot

We were sitting in the local park recently watching the bird life. Not an obvious theatre for learning about human behaviour you may think, but stay with me for a moment.

Our attention was caught by a coot who was acting aggressively towards every other bird on the lake. So disgruntled was this coot that not only was he attacking any birds that came near (not many given his attitude), but he was also looking around for birds with whom to pick a fight. We casually dismissed him as a bad tempered bird, and wandered on.

Whereupon we came upon a flock of newly born (and still nesting) coots and all became clear. Our disgruntled coot was not acting unreasonably. He was protecting his family.

A couple of days later a Chief Executive was telling me about a manager in his team who was exhibiting "disgruntled coot" behaviour. He was irritable and angry with all around him. Both the Chief Exec and his colleagues were seeking to deal with these behaviours as best they could. But it was hard not to dismiss him as a "bad tempered bird" and to act in response to that. 

Before we all get too smug about this, are you sure that all of your behaviour seems reasonable to the casual observer?

What was really going on?

It didn't take much analysis for possible underlying causes of the irritable and angry behaviour to become apparent. And beyond that, for a number of strategies to emerge that might address the underlying issues, rather than simply work at the irritable and angry symptom level.

How often do we take the time to do that? To seek to understand, rather than to work at the superficial level, and to take time to think about a person's situation rather than dismiss them as unreasonable simply based on a superficial perception of their behaviour.

And before we all get too smug about this, are you sure that all of your behaviour seems reasonable to the casual observer? I had my own bout of irritability only last week, but it took a while for me to understand the underlying cause and to deal with it - and hopefully to be less irritable as a result.

It's simply too easy and too lazy only to look at behaviours and to be dismissive of people as a result. It may take very little effort to actually understand what's going on. And it's almost always worth the effort. Just as it was with the coot.

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