Why we do, what we do?

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Think of the last time you reflected upon an action you took? Remember asking yourself the question why did I do what I just did? Sometime we may not even ask this question, thinking it is the way it is or it is meant to be or you were too busy to do so. Even if we asked this question we may not think deep enough to reflect on the root causes. Sometimes, even if we thought deep enough, we may not reflect on alternate ways of responding to the same situation the next time. Sometimes, even if we thought of alternate ways of responding the next time, we may not reflect on alternate actions we could take the next time. Those who go through this whole process and take alternate action the next time, and continue to follow this process, will find tremendous personal growth.

Greuter Cooke and Bill Torbert presents a model that helps us understand why we do what we do. According to their proposition there are nine action logics used by various people to decide on what actions to take in a given situation (Cooke Greuter 2002, Torbert, Torbert 2004). They categorise the nine action logics under categories named pre-conventional and post-conventional based on a research project conducted in the United States using a sample of 4510 mixed adults. While these findings may not be universally relevant, due to cultural differences of various groups etc., it is a good starting point to understand this vital concept. I have personally found the concept useful given my own specific circumstances.

According to the Cooke and Torbert; around 85% of the sample acted from pre-conventional action logic and the balance 15%, from post-conventional action logic. I will use this blog-post to illustrate the first five pre-conventional action logics; impulsive, opportunist, diplomat, expert and achiever. Impulsive action logic is almost non-existent in the mixed adult sample used for this research project while the other four ‘action logic’ consisted of 4.3%, 11.3%, 36.5% and 29.7% respectively. These numbers are given only for a broad indication, as the percentages can be different in other groups. The next blog-post will be used to illustrate the four, post conventional action logic.

Lets take the example of Tom who joins a fast food service restaurant. This is Tom’s first job and Tom had always had his own way when he was a child. He was also a bully in school and all his friends would act according to his whims and fancies. On the first day at work his supervisor gives the task of cleaning the washrooms, as this is the first activity every employee goes through. Tom refuses to do it and when his supervisor insists that he does it, he physically assaults the supervisor. This is an indication of ‘impulsive’ action logic.

Sara joins a finance department of a company. This is her first job. While she has got the basic accounting qualifications, she has no experience. She speaks to a friendly looking colleague and obtains his help to teach her. He finds it faster to do some of the vital aspects of her job rather than teaching her. She too likes the idea and does not take any interest to learn the task herself. After a few weeks his colleague feels Sara is using him and stops helping. Sara uses different colleagues in the same way and once she refuses to help, moves to another colleague, until there is no one else left to help her. This is an indication of ‘opportunist’ action logic where the preference is to use others for selfish purposes. Her boss notices this tendency and assigned her to a strong leader who is briefed to keep a close eye on her and guide her.

Due to the action taken by her boss and her own realisation that her colleagues have developed a negative impression about her, she works on building relationships with them by being of assistance in areas she is talented in. She does not develop the skills in areas important for her job, as her colleagues have started helping her again because of her new approach. This is an indication of ‘diplomat’ action logic. Her boss notices this tendency and gets her working in a small project team with a strong leader. This project team works on an interesting project and has a rigorous performance management process.

Sara now learns the skills requires for the job and finds she is independent in carrying out her duties. She continues to learn and develop her skills. She enhances her professional qualifications. She now thinks that she is the best for the job and tries to impose her own way for all work related issues. She refuses to listen to other points of view and is defensive when she receives feedback. This is an indication of ‘expert’ action logic. Her boss notices this and provides her coaching and helps her to learn to listen to other viewpoints and receive feedback.

After having positively responded to the coaching process, Sara is now good at listening, taking feedback and discussing different options presented by her colleagues. This approach not only helps her to make better decisions, as she is richer in perspectives, it has also strengthened her relationships with her colleagues. This is an indication of ‘achiever’ action logic.

According to my personal experiences I remember times I have responded using each of these action logic in various circumstances. I feel I have evolved from responding from an ‘impulsive’ action logic as a little child in to the higher action logics in pre-conventional areas explained in this post in to post-conventional action logic that will be discussed in my next blog post with the passage of time as I learn and have life experiences. I also feel I respond from different action logic on a situational basis, but I believe I may have a centre of gravity action logic, that will be discussed in the next blog-post.

One of the ways to use this material is to reflect when you act in a particular manner and ask yourself; from which action logic did I respond in that situation? Ask yourself what you were thinking and feeling during that situation and what sense can you make from the experience. Then ask yourself, would there have been an alternate way to respond from different action logic and make a commitment to respond in an alternate way the next time a similar situation arises. Reflectively write in to these experiences. The continuation of this process will help us gain rapid development in our human qualities.

I look forward to hearing of your experiences as you try this approach so that we can develop a conversation that can be mutually beneficial.


Cooke Greuter, S., 2002. Nine Action Logics and Their Development in Detail.

One thought on “Why we do, what we do?

  1. Pingback: Why we do, what we do – Part 2 | Ranjan De Silva

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