What is it about the crying baby syndrome?

The attention seeking of the crying baby syndrome is painfully obvious to everyone. Ideally, this strategy shouldn’t work. But it does. Why?

crying baby syndrome
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Corporate life is a great teacher. And the best learning is from the people around you. I plead guilty to being ‘a behaviour junkie’, i.e; I am amazed by, perplexed and fascinated by the people around me.

Well, a while back, an interesting incident peaked my interest. I was walking along, minding my business when I heard voices. A person was telling his manager ‘I received an offer from our competitor yesterday and am seriously thinking about what to do.’ The manager responds by saying ‘Don’t worry, we will work something out’. On the face of it, the conversation is not all that far-fetched. In this instance however, the person was one who had made quite a profession out of ‘crying wolf’, and successfully so. The corporate world is strewn with examples of soft threats of resignation inorder to wrangle that prize salary increase or career enhancement, ‘projection of performance’ being more valued than the performance itself, working long hours to get the manager’s attention, ‘window dressing’ the CV to land that prize job, ‘branding’ taking on a scary life of its own and distancing itself more and more from reality…

There is a common theme here. And that is, the ‘crying baby gets the milk’ syndrome! And yes, there are loads of managers who repeat this statement as the gospel truth. Excuse me, but what is it about the crying baby anyway? The syndrome haunts poor, self-contained, intrinsically –motivated denizens of the corporate world at their every step.

What is the ‘crying baby syndrome’ (CBS) exactly?

Well.. am not really sure if a clinical definition exists. A common man’s definition probably would be ‘a person who displays attention seeking behaviour, and manages to gets the same from the person that he/she desires it from’.

The thing about attention seeking behaviour is that it is painfully obvious to everyone around. Ideally, this strategy should not be successful. But it is. And that is precisely why it merits diagnosis.

‘Study after study has shown that managers work at an unrelenting pace, that their activities are characterised by brevity, variety, and discontinuity, and that they are strongly oriented to action and dislike reflective activities. … The traditional literature notwithstanding, the job of managing does not breed reflective planners; managers respond to stimuli, they are conditioned by their jobs to prefer live to delayed action’

Henry Mintzberg in his seminal work, ‘The Nature of Managerial Work’

He talks about the increasing risk of managers developing ‘attention deficiency syndrome’ due to their much interrupted and fire fighting mode of work and the sheer work load as well. In this scenario of frenzied activity, getting into details becomes dispensable and overall ‘look and feel’ becomes of utmost importance.

How does this impact the team?

Performance management – Yes, we are talking about the controversial performance appraisals. No matter how much we discuss and how much literature exists on this topic, the truth about the perfect appraisal is still out there. It all boils down to projection of performance rather than the performance itself. There are clearly 2 schools of thought on this issue and the battle lines are drawn for all to see. One believes firmly that the work they do should speak for itself and managers are responsible for taking time out to evaluate their work after understanding it well. The other school of thought believes that unless work is highlighted and drama created around it, it is difficult to get the attention of those who matter.

This impacts salary negotiations, career enhancement and every other aspect of an individual’s life.

In addition to this, there are a plethora of theories out there, some about ‘A’ players and ‘B’ players, about how the ‘A’ folks are the people to look after as they are the best performers but difficult to retain. ‘A’ players bring unique creative, strategic and leadership skills to the team and have the courage to bring out transformational changes. However, in a booming job market, where one has to make compromises on competence levels, these theories have limited validity because human behaviour changes with situational changes.

Combine the overwork and limited attention syndrome mentioned by Mintzberg with our learnt beliefs about who deserves our attention, and you have a deadly cocktail and the birth of the CBS.

My empathy is with the manager who has to sift the wheat from the chaff and make decisions that will have serious consequences. So, what does he/ she do?

I don’t really have an answer… but I have seen a lot of successful managers attempt to be plan-driven rather than stimuli driven. They take the lead in understanding their people’s needs and respond to them to the best of their abilities. Most of all, I think they are more aware than others of themselves and their team members and they really know their teams.

For those of you out there who think the work should speak for itself… honestly, the work doesn’t have a voice. You really do have it give it the voice.

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