I believe that the vocabulary we use to make sense of our social environment affects both our understanding of people and situations, as well as the way we respond to them. That's why I make a point to learn about the meanings of words--both as defined in a dictionary, as well as contrived through everyday use.
The two words contained in the title of today's article are prime examples of this. Let's start with "behavior." Many dictionary definitions focus on the end result when they define behavior. They employ terms such as, "observable activity, demeanor, manner," etc. I think that our common usage of the word "behavior" is generally consistent with these ideas. We tend to view others' actions as isolated, visible activities. If we assign any hint of prior action to it, we typically assign a choice. In other words, we often believe that people "choose" to "behave" a certain way. Of course, we're more likely to do this with negative behaviors than positive ones, especially with a person who frequently "misbehaves!" The most insightful information I found was from the American Heritage Dictionary, which stated, after giving synonyms for behavior, "These nouns all pertain to a person's actions as they constitute a means of evaluation by others." Note that "behavior" as defined in this way, depends very much on the person doing the observing!
The word "appropriate" has a similar twist to it. A common definition for this word contains something like this, "suitable for a particular person or place or condition etc;" Who determines what's appropriate for a given situation? The implication is that others determine that!
Both words in the title of this article, "Appropriate Behavior," empower the audience, or "others," and remove control of the situation from those doing the acting. I believe there's a better alternative!
Buried in some of the definitions of "behavior" is the word, "reaction." What this implies is that there's an antecedent for the behavior; that the observable action is in response to something else. In fact, whether or not an action was based on a conscious choice, a "behavior" is usually a response to input. That's why I prefer to use the term "response" as opposed to "behavior," since it reminds us that there's a lot going on under the surface prior to the "tip of the iceberg" end result that we're able to observe.
And since the word "appropriate" can leave the judgment of others' actions completely in the eyes of the beholder, I prefer the term, "effective." A response either works, or it doesn't, or in the words of the dictionary, "effective" means, "adequate to accomplish a purpose." Effective responses lead us toward a goal, whether the goal is getting a job done or interacting successfully with others.
Look how a change in our vocabulary can positively affect the way we interact with others! If Tom refuses to raise his hand in class and frequently interrupts, in spite of frequent admonitions from the teacher, recognizing his actions as a "response" leads us to question what information he might be missing about classroom expectations (and the purpose for those), as well as the effect that his actions has on others. We can also help him to understand how raising his hand to ask a question (or to provide an answer to the teacher's question) helps him to be more "socially effective," along with the teacher and the other students in the class. Raising his hand is both a strategy and a response as defined by my "Social Response Pyramid(TM)." Tom's overall goal is to be socially effective, but in this case, it is more narrowly defined as either getting necessary information, or giving relevant information. His raising his hand "works" (or is effective) in this particular environment given the other people in the room and their expectations for him and the others in that context.
Rather than bemoaning Tom's "inappropriate behavior" of interrupting throughout the instructional time, we can instead help him to generate a "socially effective response"--one that empowers him as an active participant in the success of everyone in the social context of his classroom.
We are all capable of producing ineffective responses, whether or not they are related to conscious choices. And all of us have done things that could be described as "inappropriate behavior"--if you don't believe, me, ask your parents (or your children)! Yet I think it can be much more helpful in our work of promoting social insight and understanding to focus on "effective responses" rather than "appropriate behaviors." (Feel free to comment on this article here. Whether you agree or disagree, your comments and insights are always welcome!)
Best wishes as you work to produce socially effective responses, and to enable others to do the same!