Choice Theory : Survival of the Fittest in the Workplace

Have you ever glared at your boss for saying something inappropriate, or responding harshly to something you did or said?

What did you do? How did you respond?

Choice Theroy - William Glasser Business Mentoring Australia

In the workplace, we all expect a certain level of professionalism. Some workplaces are exceptionally black and white and deviating from rules, scripts and dress codes are not tolerated. Some workplaces are relaxed, a lot of fun and rules are there to be broken. No matter what type of workplace you work in, decisions about your behaviour are required to be made. How you or your boss acts in a certain situation, comes down to choice. 

William Glasser's Choice Theory states we are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: 

  1. Survival
  2. Love and belonging
  3. Power
  4. Freedom
  5. Fun

    Many psychologists relate the Choice Theory to people in their personal lives. Survival is the need to have food and shelter. Love and belonging is the need to have a life partner and social connectedness. Power could be related to social status or the amount of money you have. Freedom can be the ability to make choices without judgment or criticism and fun could be related to being able to play with your children, have a drink and relax with friends, or as extreme as wanting to skydive. 

    How do William Glasser's five basic needs apply to the workplace? You may be surprised to know, they apply to the workplace just as significantly as they do to your personal life. 


    The workplace survival instinct can be seen played out, where you literally fight against other candidates in order to survive first, second or even the third round of interviews. Once you survive and land a position, you're still not safe. You need to get through your probation period, learn as much as you can about office politics, so you know who to go to, who to trust and what you need to know about your job to survive the first few months. 

    After probation, you do everything you can to avoid getting negative attention, as this results in potential warnings and termination. 

    If you are someone who receives positive attention and starts climbing the corporate ladder, you start putting yourself under incredible pressure to succeed.

    You don't want to just survive, you want to be the best so you get that next promotion over someone else. So you start putting in extra hours, you increase the quality of your work, you make sacrifices in your personal life to give yourself a head start, and hopefully, all the extra brownie points you are accumulating will get you noticed enough to land the next job. 

    How do you behave when you are living the workplace survival instinct? 

    Are you stressed, overworked, emotionally burned out, working long hours, or not getting a healthy work-life balance? Chances are, you are not behaving very well. Instead of receiving positive attention, your close peers are concerned about you, but your manager is probably looking at phasing you out. 

    What if you're not stressed? What if you are flying under the radar, hoping to survive by not drawing attention to yourself? Chances are you are not outperforming your peers, you are getting the bare minimum done, and you are not receiving any positive, or negative attention. While this may seem like a good choice when it comes to survival, is it a good choice for your wellbeing? Are you learning or being challenged? Or are you bored and watch the clock tick down to home time?

    So what is the answer? Keep reading, and you will find out!

    Love and belonging

    What? How is love and belonging something that happens in the workplace? Is it when you fall in love with your boss? No. Although, it's not impossible! In the simple sense of the word, at work, you want to love what you do on an everyday basis, and you want people to recognise, and appreciate you for your efforts.

    Even employees who outwardly don't want compliments, want to feel like what they are doing is valued and be told so. Similarly, employees want to feel like they belong. One on one mentoring sessions is exceptionally good for ensuring people feel valued for their work, and a simple thank you for someone's effort goes a long way. 

    How does belonging fit in the workplace? We all go to work to socialise, don't we? We chat about our weekends, we complain about our husbands and wives, we all secretly hate the manager in the other department. We are social butterflies, and we all want to find at least one person we can connect with, so we feel like we belong. 

    Stand-alone personality profiling activities are amazing at making people feel like they don't belong. Imagine if you had a room full of librarians. Nine out of ten of them are introverts and are made to stand in one corner. The one extrovert knew he was a bit louder than the rest of them, but all of a sudden, standing on his own in the opposite corner of the room to the rest of his peers, does he feel a sense of belonging? Or a sense of misfit?

    When profiling a team, it is exceptionally important to ensure a holistic approach is taken and it's not done as a team building exercise on its own. Staff need to know at the outset the importance of personality diverse teams to drive the productive balance of creativity, innovation, organisation, and time management, and the need for a mix of introverted or extroverted detail orientated or strategic thinkers, so they don't feel ostracized. 


    Power within organisations is pretty evident. We all know the powerful CEO, a visionary leader or a manipulative manager who can get anyone to do anything without realising how. 

    How do you behave when you are face to face with the CEO or an Executive Member? Do you go week at the knees, or do you find a reservoir of power you didn't know you had?


    Micro-managing is so...1990. 

    Welcome to the new millennials. We all need a level of autonomy, so we have the space to be creative, and the freedom to work through our to-do list without judgment. 

    How do you behave when your freedom is threatened?


    This one is easy, we all like to have fun at work! 

    How do you behave when faced with the five basic needs?

    According to William Glasser people have seven caring habits and seven deadly habits they choose between when responding to stimuli. 

    Seven Caring Habits

    1. Supporting
    2. Encouraging
    3. Listening
    4. Accepting
    5. Trusting
    6. Respecting
    7. Negotiating differences

    Seven Deadly Habits

    1. Criticising
    2. Blaming
    3. Complaining
    4. Nagging
    5. Threatening
    6. Punishing
    7. Bribing, rewarding to control

    Based on the above habits, the next time you are faced with a survival behaviour from your boss, and they are blaming you for something you haven't done, instead of jumping to blaming them for something they haven't done (a deadly habit), confront the behaviour with a caring habit instead.

    Listen to what they have to say, accept there has been some miscommunication, respect the amount of work they have done to get to where they are and negotiate the differences. Guaranteed, instead of walking out of their office angry and quickly jumping on Seek to find a new job, you will feel amazing and in control of your emotions. 

    When it comes to behaviour, you can choose how you act. The next time someone is complaining about something, listen and encourage them to do something different. The next time someone is nagging you about a report that is due, negotiate with them, reset their expectation, to give you more time. 

    When you are faced with a deadly habit, remember the ten axioms of choice theory

    1. The only person whose behaviour you can control is your own
    2. All we can give another person is information
    3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems
    4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life
    5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future. 
    6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our quality world
    7. All we do is behave
    8. All behaviour is total behaviour and is made up of four components; acting, thinking, feeling and physiology
    9. All total behaviour is chosen, but we only have direct control over the thinking and acting components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think
    10. All total behaviour is designated by verbs named by the part that is the most recognisable. 

    So now you know the differences between caring and deadly habits, you can choose how you behave. Even better, you can start practising caring habits by sharing this post to support your friends and colleagues. 

    Choice Theory : Survival of the Fittest in the Workplace

    Would you like to know more about practical uses of the Choice Theory, and how you could practice them in your line of work? Contact a Business Mentor and ask them a question. Simply fill in the details below and we will get back to you.