I’ve always done reasonably well in school, that is why it was a shock when I received a D- on a paper I had written. Now it wasn’t my favorite class (administrative law) and only counted as a small percentage of my overall grade. I went through the expected cycle: shock, denial, anger and depression. I then, as usual, began looking for the underlying reason, not only to my abysmal grade, but why I, and others it turns out, reacted with such emotional clamor and oh yes there was clamor.

The reason for the mental distress is the same reason a crushing defeat at the last minute in football stings so much or why movies that lead you through a spectacular build-up and fall flat with a mediocre ending leave you dejected. It is called the peak-end rule, a mental heuristic we all possess. Take the case of Yahoo researcher, Cameron Marlow,

In the case of my vacation, the last high-point of my time in Europe was in Florence, followed by one brief day in Copenhagen. Not that there’s anything wrong with Denmark, but that day ends up coming up in more of my conversations than the rest of the trip because that is how memory works (that and blood jello is really, really disgusting). If you’re planning any trips soon, make sure to end on a high note, because you will be the one telling the stories.

In my situation, the feeling that everything was going well was partially rooted in the lack of direction and expectations set by the professor. When the grades were received, those who misinterpreted the scope of the assignment were obviously distressed. Since these concerns were addressed with the professor following this initial assignment, everyone proceeded with a clear understanding going forward.

Unfortunately higher education is not the only place this lack of common direction exists, supervisors and managers are guilty of the same actions. Goals are poorly set with few guidelines, leading to an atmosphere were employees become complacent or pursue the wrong development plans. Some managers go so far as to ask employees to set their own training objectives with little support, then chastise them when they fail to live up to the internal expectations the manager initially had conceived but failed to communicate. When a performance review is finally conducted, generally every six months, employees are left confused and irritated with diminished morale.

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