Two Fundamental Thoughts

At the conclusion of the academic year in the U.S.A. and the start of summer vacation in many schools, it seems a proper time to review two significant characteristics of the approaches I recommend that are different from most others.


You are at home and the telephone rings. You answer it. Assume for a moment that you are NOT familiar with choice-response thinking. If I were to query you why you answered the phone, most would say—in one way or another—that the phone was a stimulus and answering it was the response.

Now, let’s assume that you are at home watching a television program that you had been looking forward to seeing. You are totally engaged in a dramatic scene and the phone rings. Would you disrupt your involvement in the program to answer it?

In this situation, some people would answer the phone—perhaps because they would have acted REFLEXIVELY. Others would let the telephone answering device record the message for them to check the message later. The latter group would have acted REFLECTIVELY.

Answering a phone is a voluntary act. No one forces people to react one way or another to the ringing of a telephone. In essence, the ringing of the phone is simply information. In the example above, a CHOICE was made to answer or not to answer when the ring was heard.

The first significant characteristic, then, is the understanding that with any situation, or stimulation, or urge, humans have the ability to make a choice—either reflexively or reflectively. The stimulus DOES NOT CAUSE the response. In the situation with the telephone or stopping at a red light, the stimulus is simply information that one chooses or does not choose to act on.

The problem arises only when—by extrapolation—we assume that the phone or a red light CAUSED the action. This psychology of “stimulus-response” is believed by many as the way to control or influence others.

To borrow from Stephen R. Covey, the “jackass” approach of the carrot and stick is a poor way to deal with humans.


Because controllees have low motivation to carry out decisions IMPOSED on them, as scores of research have documented, enforcement is both difficult and time-consuming. This is very evident in schools where teachers spend so much classroom time “playing police”—enforcing rules.

Aiming at controlling people is really focusing on controlling the body and hoping the brain follows. In contrast, aiming at the brain and having the body follow is less stressful and far more effective.

Controlling people aims at obedience. Except where the relationship is so strong that the controllee feels that the control is in his or her own best interest, control rarely brings either desire or commitment.

Control is only temporary. In the final analysis, people change themselves. The most effective way to actuate change in others is through enlightened leadership. This type of leader leads through the vision they project and the manner in which they treat others.

Successful leaders empower, not overpower. They are positive, not negative. They encourage others by sharing their own expectations, not by telling others what to do. These leaders treat people with dignity and respect knowing that people will reflect and make choices that meet the leader’s expectations.

More information on this topic is available at