Every once in a while the thrift store has a ten-fer sale and I grab a stack of used books. This week I picked up Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work by Albert Bernstein and Sydney Rozen, circa 1989. It’s kind of cute, but has a serious underlying message about communication.
The brain of the dinosaur had to control a body the size of a tractor-trailer with a brain the size of a walnut, so dinosaurs were hardwired with certain response patterns. The premise behind the title is that inside the human brain is a much older Dinosaur Brain that is “irrational, emotional, easily enraged.” Communication problems arise when humans, often wired on too much coffee, allow the primitive parts of the “reptile” brain to take over the rational part of the brain.
According to the authors, our brains are supposed to be hard-wired with seven pre-programmed lizard instructions for coping with life. “Get it Now! Impulsiveness” The dinosaur must make constant quick decisions. If it is food, eat it; if it is an enemy, kill it or run away. People with dinosaur brains prefer to work in crisis mode and are adrenaline junkies who use caffeine to keep themselves stimulated. They tend to talk fast and are good for getting projects started, but they’re sure any criticism is personal.“Fight, run, or freeze” Dinosaurs respond to threat or aggression.When people get stressed, they either yell, take a “mental health day,” or get stage fright. Be dominant! Lizard brains try to gain dominance by blind aggressiveness. They talk louder, interrupt, delight in making other people look stupid and they always have the last word. They speak in sports metaphors and quasi-military slang. They win battles but lose the war for trust and loyalty. Defend the territory! “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” Dinosaur brains stand too close and touch too much or order to try to dominate people, or freak out if they think someone has gone “over their head”. They look silly and petty, but it’s deadly serious, so whatever you do, don’t laugh. Get the mate! Office romances. When the dinosaur sees someone of the opposite sex, they behave in courtship patterns instead of paying attention to business, resulting in inappropriate, annoying behaviour or sexual harassment. If it hurts, Hiss! Dinosaur hissing alerts the herd to danger; people complain and blame. Like me, good; not like me, bad The dinosaur world is black and white, and consists of good guys and bad guys
But with Valentine’s day just around the corner let’s cut to the chase and fast forward to the Get the Mate! chapter. What happens in the office romance? “…the giant dinosaur seeks a mate. He preens, puffs, and parades before the females until he finds one who is receptive. He singles her out from the herd, and they begin the intricate dance of courtship. Their tiny brains shut out all thoughts except of each other and of what comes next. He approaches. She backs away. They feign aggression. They touch and groom. He brings her gifts of food and nest-building materials. She accepts.”….
And the human dinosaur brains? The first part is the nicest. In the observation stage two people pick each other out in the crowd. The special person is more noticeable, more three-dimensional. They are energized and find they can think more clearly and get more done. Then comes banter, joking, teasing, playful aggression or competition while both people find themselves thinking more sharply and creatively. In the display phase, appetite is suppressed, they may diet, and they think about what they’re going to wear. At this point, co-workers start to become aware. In the next phase, the human dinosaurs separate from the herd and look for reasons to spend time together, fantasize about the other person (not necessarily in a sexual way), decide how they will behave at the office, start getting to know each other, get and give emotional support, and find reasons to call each other at home. At this point, either person can still retreat without hurting the other’s feelings. Once ”accidental touching, accompanied by lingering eye contact,” (Oh, my, oh my!) starts, if someone backs off it will be felt as rejection. As the relationship goes into full bloom they question, is this the Real Thing? Then reality sets in and they discover each other’s flaws. If one is married, the spouse finds out. If the relationship is broken off, it is then time to make assessment of damage to everyone’s career.
Here are some corporate “laws of gravity”: The first few are a little depressing, probably not true, and in the same vein as “Greed works.”
There will be a lot of people who don’t play by the rules, and absolutely nothing happens to them.
If virtue isn’t its own reward, it’s probably not rewarded at all.
All instructions you will ever be given will leave out at least one or two crucial items.
People will do what they are sufficiently rewarded to do.
Never assume malicious intent when ignorance is sufficient to explain.
People will come to you for favors but will not be as ready to do favors for you when you come to them as you were to do favors for them when they came to you.
If you are abrasive and aggressive, nobody will ever come and tell you. That’s because they’re afraid of you.
If you want to form an alliance, make a group cohesive, or start a friendship, you will have to do all the work.
You’ll never know in advance whether a decision is right or wrong. Most often you have to choose one of the roads and make it the right choice by your actions after the decision is made.
There are no guarantees. We all have to jump into the darkness.
Many of the most important questions will never be answered.
Were these really true eighteen years ago? And are they still true now? Not in my world. But they’re something interesting to think about.