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Learning from Ben

If you have read the Ratman Notebooks, written by Stephen Gilbert, seen the horror movie Willard, or its sequel, Ben, you will know that Ben is a pet rat and the leader of a violent pack of killer rats. Some of our readers may even remember the song, ‘Ben’ written for the movie and sung by a very young Michael Jackson .

I am the first to put up my hand – I am scared of rats and quite frankly, I find them repulsive. However, I do know that they are highly intelligent and highly trainable. They can do many things you can train your dog to do such as retrieve, complete an agility course, high-five, or give kisses .

My interest in rats was sparked by an article on the University of Pennsylvania’s Odyssey website. Seemingly there are five things we can learn from rats and each of these is relevant in the world of work.

  • Rats are great at communication
  • Rats take risks
  • Rats do not hold grudges
  • Rats do not look at body image
  • Rats take care of each other

Rats are good at communication; however, communication is often the Achilles heel for humans. Rats are unambiguous in their communication – they express joy by boggling their eyes, or bruxing, fear or pain by a squeak or a shriek, annoyance by shoving, or anger by hissing or bearing teeth. People are more difficult to read. This is particularly tricky in a culturally diverse workplace, where there are cultural nuances and differences.

What are you doing as an employer to improve communication in your workplace? Are good communication skills, such as reading body language part of your diversity training?

Rats also excel at taking risks; people are often risk averse. The problem is one can be too risk averse. Employees should be taught to be confident to work outside their comfort zone. How else will you as an employer, or employees as individuals, know what they are truly capable of? It goes without saying that allowing people to take risks requires a supportive, learning work environment.

The remarkable thing about rats is they do not bear grudges – there might be a squabble over scraps, but when this is over it is over. How often do issues between employees or an employee and the boss create a toxic environment? How often does this translate into high rates of absenteeism, or low morale? We would do well to learn from rats, to forgive, forget and walk away and start anew, enabling us to give the task in hand our all.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that rats do not look at body image – scrawny, well-groomed, large or small makes no difference to how one is perceived. How often do prejudices or biases cloud our judgement as employers or colleagues in the workplace? The tattoo, the body piercings, the very different dress code can so easily prejudice our assessment of potential and talent. As talent managers and employers, we need to ensure that talent is not perceived to be packaged in a particular way.

Rats take care of each other. We need to take care of our employees and our colleagues. We need to support them when they are struggling; we need to become empathetic. Rats do this automatically; we should too.

Which lessons from rats, will you embrace in the week ahead in your quest to become a better manager, a better talent manager, a better employee, a better friend, parent or partner?

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