Behavior and Acceptance: A Constantly Moving Target

You just know it’s going to be One of Those Days.

The alarm didn’t go off at 6:00 a.m. because sometime in the night, one of those micro-power-surges knocked out electricity for just long enough to take out the alarm clock, and guess what? It turns out the backup AA battery was dead, too. (What? No, you don’t use your cell as an alarm anymore, because you read an article on last month that said sleeping with your cell phone in the bedroom isn’t good for restful sleep, so you decided to go back to analog alarms. For your health. Now this. Sigh.)

So you scrambled out of bed 35 minutes late, took the world’s fastest shower, clawed your way into your lowest-maintenance work outfit, and got on the road.

Only to find yourself locked into a freeway glacier. I mean, traffic was moving at measures of speed generally only expressed in geologic time.

Then once you actually got to the office parking lot, some random jerk in a BMW pulled right in front of you on the way into the garage, just narrowly missing your right front bumper, spiking your blood pressure, finally eliciting the blood-curdling and vaguely profane scream that’s been brewing all morning.

As your agitated footsteps echo like small but deadly bombs on the final few yards to your office, one of your direct reports who frequently indulges in friendly ribbing with everybody in the office good-naturedly approaches you, donut in hand, slaps you on the back, and chirps, “Hey, must be nice to be the boss! Nah, that’s OK, you roll in whenever you want to; we’ve got your back.”

Do you…?
a)  Laugh along and ask where the donuts are
b)  Fix your direct report with a withering stare and head straight into your office without another word
c)  Resist the temptation to react and wait until you calm down and then figure out how to respond

While it’s very difficult to resist the urge to react, it will cause you a lot less stress and possible damage to your relationship if you step back and focus on exactly what the problem is. 


The Gordon Model is based on a blueprint called the Behavior Window.  In this figurative window, you can place any behavior of another person and then figure out if it’s acceptable or unacceptable to you.

There are three factors that influence how you see the other person’s behavior and therefore whether that behavior is okay with you or not okay.  The Model then offers you skills for dealing with it in the most effective way.  The three factors are:  Self, Other and Environment.     

Self:   Changes in your own feelings, independent of the other’s behavior, can determine whether you are feeling accepting or unaccepting of the behavior. If you’re having a good day, you may feel accepting of most anything the other person does or says.

On this Terrible, Awful, Very No-Good Workday, your Area of Acceptance is much smaller than on a “normal” day, because you, a normal human being, are under an unusual amount of stress and tension.

Feelings and emotions that raise your blood pressure also tend to make you more emotionally reactive. As a result, they tend to shrink the Area of Acceptance in your Behavior Window, which places your direct report’s behavior in your Area of Unacceptance—today.

Other: The person with whom you are dealing will also generally affect the amount of “room” you are willing to make for him or her in your Behavior Window. The person slapping your back with donut icing on his face may be one of your favorite, most productive people in the office, which would generally make your Area of Acceptance for his jokes and gentle ribbing a large one.

On the other hand, if the jokester is somebody who’s also likely to turn in assignments late, leave work early, and irritate others with indelicate and awkward humor, then your Area of Acceptance for his jokes today of all days may snap completely shut.

We are all human; we aren’t equally accepting or unaccepting of all people, and we all have preferences, biases, and feelings of acceptance that vary from person to person.

Environment: Finally, let us acknowledge there will always be situations and conditions beyond our control (and also beyond the control of those with whom we interact) that change how accepting we’re capable of feeling on a given day or at a given time. Tax season. A key employee out on parental leave when a merger is about to happen, and nobody else can really speak about her area of expertise. The IS tech setting down his Big Gulp on top of a $500,000 piece of incredibly delicate 3-D printing technology. Deadlines.  Glitchy alarms. Traffic glaciers. BMWs.

So Now What?

In the case of the Very Bad No-Good Workday, the owner of the problem at the moment of donuts-and-backslapping is undoubtedly you.

Now is the time to ask: “How is my direct report’s behavior this morning affecting my ability to get my needs met?”

If you are a person whose Behavior Window generally has a large Area of Acceptance, narrowed only by the insane pile-on of crazy circumstances, you may find that a few hours of productive work activity will take the head of steam off the incident, and you’ll be able to discuss it with your direct report at a later time.

On the other hand, if a direct report addressing you in this way about your arrival time in a public area creates a problem for you and you decide you do need to address it with him, now is the time to dust off your Confrontive I-Message skills and get down to constructively discussing the issue (but probably after you’ve had time to cool your heels, re-establish emotional equilibrium, and maybe even have a donut.) That’s attempting to influence the other to change.

“Gerardo, this morning when I got into the office, I was running late because of an alarm clock failure, horrendous traffic, and a near-miss in the parking garage, so I was keyed up and very tense. Your joke about my arrival time hit me in a very raw spot, and the fact that it was made in a public place where others could hear, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, because I worried other team members might think I intentionally came in later than usual out of negligence or a lack of commitment to my work.”

In this particular case, you probably won’t be able to change the environment, although changing the backup AA battery in your alarm clock would be a good start, and giving extra berth to BMW drivers might be another.

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