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How Identity Influences Behaviour

Who Are You? In this article, the corporate trainers at Eagle Training discuss how identity can have a powerful influence on your life and can have a huge impact on your behaviours, values and beliefs.

The Scorpion and the Frog

The Scorpion and the Frog Identity and Beliefs

One sunny day a male scorpion was by the side of a river that he needed to cross to get to its destination. Now he had a problem because scorpions can do a lot of things, but they can’t swim, so he sits down to take his breath and assess his options. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a frog on the river bank and hatches a plan.

He slowly approaches the frog and puts on his friendliest “I’m not a threat” face, explains his predicament and asks the frog to carry him across a river. Now, the frog was a wise frog and, wary as all hell, he puts some distance between himself and the stranger and says “Are you mad! You’ll sting me and I will die”

Expecting this reaction from the frog the scorpion says, “Don’t be ridiculous Mr Frog. Think about it. If I sting you then we’ll both drown!”

The frog thinks for a little. His entire life he’s been urged to avoid scorpions like the plague. But he’s also been raised to do a good turn when he can, to offer charity and to solve problems logically. The frog’s charitable and logical side wins out. He agrees that it would be stupid of the scorpion to kill them both, and so he tells the scorpion to jump on his back and crosses the river.

When they’re halfway across the river the scorpion can’t control himself and lifts his stinger. Though his logic circuits won the internal argument, the frog still feels uneasy. Halfway across the river, he feels searing pain as the scorpion’s stinger is brought down hard into his back.

It’s painful. The frog’s legs start to go numb and he realises he’s not going to make it to the other side, with or without the scorpion. As they both start to drown, the frog says to the scorpion, “Why did you do that? Now we’re both going to drown!”

“I know and I’m sorry,” replied the scorpion, “but I’m a scorpion and it’s what scorpions do.”

Your sense of identity

OK, I guess you might know that story and you might be wondering why I would write about the scorpion and the frog. Well, on one level it’s a story of how we can do things that equate to self-harm. However, for me, it’s also a great story about something that is psychologically very important; your sense of identity.

We all have a sense of identity. It’s our sense of self. It’s WHO we are. Interestingly, companies also have a sense of identity. It is a significant part of you and it is likely that you will defend it if you feel it is being attacked. This is an important point to remember when giving someone developmental feedback; remember to focus on the performance (behaviour), not the person (identity) if you want to increase the chances of them accepting what you say.

How Identity Influences Behaviour

Your identity is a powerful influence on your life and can have a huge impact on your behaviour. My Eagle Training colleague, Martin Eldon, used to work as a PA when he worked for BT many years ago. He had a ‘day job’ but was also asked to deliver a small number of training courses. This amount increased over time until one day his training work took up practically all his time.

By his own admission, Martin struggled with this new role until one day it all changed for him. This was the day when he said to himself, “I am a corporate trainer”. Get the idea?

Many people express their identity linguistically through their jobs, their nationality, their relationship or parental status, or some other characteristic that they have identified.

Going off on a tangent for a moment, in the world of business a company’s identity is often reflected in its mission statement. Sadly, in my opinion, too many companies have bland mission statements that are generally internally focused, lacking in creativity and meaningless to both customers and employees; a bit like many vision statements!

Anyway, back to the story………

Your identity is probably inextricably linked to your beliefs and values. A few years ago I was due to start a leadership and management training programme and one of the delegates, Kelvin, informed me that I would have to go easy on him because, and I quote:

“Because I am a slow learner”

Now that’s an identity statement linked to a limiting belief, isn’t it? Kelvin had been told by a teacher many years before that he was a slow learner and he had accepted this without question and so a seed had been planted that had been nurtured through Kelvin’s school and work life.

The point I am trying to make here, albeit clumsily perhaps, is that you (and all of us actually) need to be careful about how we create our sense of identity. It’s a bit like beliefs. Some of them will be empowering and support us; like our ‘best’ friend. Others might well be limiting and impede us; like our ‘worst’ enemy.

Importance of identity to our sense of who we are

I’ll leave you with a couple of other examples of how identity is so important to our sense of who we are.

My corporate training colleague Martin was working as a consultant with a London borough council some years ago. While he was there a redundancy exercise was conducted and many folks sadly lost their jobs. Now, some folks were OK with that. Some others weren’t.

One of the latter group was a dustman; or whatever the job title is today. He was called into the HR office to be informed that he was being made redundant. Apparently he sat there silent after being told. After a while, he said, “I am a dustman. I’ve always been a dustman. If I’m not a dustman, who am I?”

Finally, I have spoken to many parents over the years – mostly mothers I have to say – who have told me that they have suffered from the empty nest syndrome once their child/children have left home. Now, this event can have some really positive effects for the parents. But, it can also have an impact on a parent’s sense of identity.

For my wife and I, this time in our lives called into question who we now were as we no longer had the same function and relationship with our two children. In conclusion, please be careful about the identity that you cultivate and remember that, whatever it is, all of us will probably defend it.

Comments (1)

Do you think it’s possible to think too much into who we are and our identity instead of just ‘being’
I am a different personality depending on who I am with and where I am. My beliefs stay the same but lots of other things about me can change.
Fascinating, I love it

Thank you

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