A more positive pattern interrupt is an antismoking campaign that began a few years ago. It suggested that anytime someone you love reaches for a cigarette, give him/her a kiss instead. In the first place, it interrupts the automatic pattern of reaching for a cigarette. At the same time, it produces a new experience that can cast doubts on the wisdom of the old one.
Pattern interrupts are also valuable in business. One executive used them to get his factory workers to change the way they looked at their work. When he first took over, he went to the plant where they were building his personal model of the company’s product. But when it came off the line, instead of taking it, he chose another model that was made for the general public. It wouldn’t even start. He flew into a rage and made it clear he wanted every one of the plant’s products built as if it were for his personal use. He said he might show up at any time to check out the quality of any product. This news spread like wildfire, and the experience interrupted the pattern of poor workmanship and caused many people to reexamine what they were doing. A master of rapport, the executive was able to pull this off causing the workers to resent him because he appealed to their pride.
Pattern interrupts can be particularly useful in politics. There was a good example recently in Louisiana. Kevin Reilly, a state legislator there, lobbied throughout the legislative session for more money for the state’s colleges and universities. All his efforts turned out to be in vain: no more money was appropriated. As he stomped out of the state Capitol, a reporter asked his thoughts. He launched into a tirade, declaring Louisiana was nothing but a banana republic. He said What we ought to do is declare bankruptcy, secede from the union, and file for foreign aid. We lead in all good stuff – illiteracy, unwed mothers and we are last in education.
At first remarks set off a storm of criticism, because they went so far beyond the usual circumspect level of political discourse. But soon he became something of a hero. He probably did more to change the state’s thinking about funding education by that one tirade than through all his ardent politicking.
You can use pattern interrupts in daily life. We have all been in arguments that take on a life of their own. The original reason behind the dispute may have long since been forgotten, but we rage on getting madder and madder, more and more intent on winning – on proving our point. Arguments like this can be the most destructive thing a relationship can face. When they are over, you may think, how in the world did that get so far out of hand?
But while the argument is still going on, you have no perspective whatsoever. Think of situations you have been in lately where you or others were stuck. What pattern interrupts could you have used? Take a moment now to create five pattern interrupts you could use in the future and think of situations where they would be useful.
There are two main ideas in this article, and they both go against the grain of what many of us have been taught. The first is that you can persuade better through agreement than through conquest. We live in a society that revels in competition, likes to make clear distinctions between winners and losers as if every interaction must have both. Remember the cigarette ads from years back that carried the message, I’d rather fight than switch? They featured a person proudly sporting a black eye as proof that he stuck to his guns, no matter what.