I just returned from a counselor’s continuing education conference. Besides being able to geek out with my colleagues about behavior theory and practice, I co-presented an ethics seminar with a complaint investigator. Yes, I really did enjoy it.
One of the concepts we discussed applies to all professionals. It’s called Normalized Deviation, which means that you learn to tolerate and accept behavior and practices that deviate from what is appropriate and right.
They begin when you do something that deviates from the norm. It affects you because it’s a big deal. But if nothing happens, you act like you dodged a bullet. The next time you deviate, it’s a deal, but not a big one that you suffer over. The third time, it’s no big deal at all. You have normalized the deviation and practice it without any thought that it matters.
For instance, when you make an agreement with a client that they will get you the information you need, when you need it and in usable form, you expect the client to follow through. When they don’t deliver, it’s a big deal. If you have the guts, you call them to make sure they haven’t died or were hospitalized. But if you let it go, the next time the client agrees to get you what you need, you are likely to get the same result. In no time, you have allowed their deviated behavior to be normalized to where you are on the lowest rung of priority. Why are you surprised your clients don’t respond to you?
Or, you agree to meet a deadline for someone in your office. The first time you miss it, you experience an internal anguish that makes it a big deal to you. If nothing is said or nothing happens, the next time it’s not your highest priority to meet it. After that, you’ve completely lost the confidence of others that you will meet your agreements. No amount of justifying will make it better; no more than the excuses your client uses with you.
Your professional stature is a high bar and you must protect it. Pay attention and look for where you have normalized deviated behavior. You’re better than that.