M&M’s and a Commitment to Take Action

Sometimes, we all hesitate to take action. We deliberate and ponder what action to take. We promise ourselves that soon we’ll take action. But we don’t. We start procrastinating. We start putting off the inevitable. Maybe we’re afraid of what could happen and so we don’t do anything.  

This is particularly true when it comes to conflicts and other interpersonal challenges.  We tend to think it’ll get better, so we don’t speak up. We make excuses about what the situation is to avoid a conversation. We think maybe we’ll let something slide - just this one time. And then it happens again.  And things don’t get better.

In other words – we get stuck.

Taking action is never easy – especially because we often don’t know what exactly to do to help our situation, and there’s no guarantee that taking action will yield results. But here’s the thing: Until we take action, we won’t get the results we’re looking for.

One strategy that can help us cultivate a call to action: the if/then approach.

Here’s a story that explains the if/then approach:

Years ago, there was a rock band named Van Halen.  There was an urban legend about how they mandated in their contract that the venue hosting them must provide them a bowl of M&M’s with every brown colored M&M removed from the bowl. The penalty for not complying with this requirement was that the concert promoters would forfeit their earnings.  Hearing this story, people believed that these rock stars had let fame go to their heads.

A few years ago, the lead singer David Lee Roth, addressed this urban legend in a video. The truth? Yes, this M&M clause did exist. The reason though, was brilliant.  It was a test for the concert promoters as to how detail oriented, they were – and how closely they read the contract.  David explained how the band played back-to-back concerts, with equipment transported by 18-wheeler trucks. The equipment, for safety reasons, needed to be staged correctly.  Logistically, because of the number of concerts and the amount of equipment involved, it was difficult to ensure that everything was done according to specifications.  David stated that if the band went backstage and did not see brown M&M’s in the bowl, then it was safe to assume that the promoter had not cut corners.  If they did see brown M&M’s, then they knew other aspects of the contract may not have been followed.  

This is a classic “if/then” approach to making decisions and taking action.  In Van Halen’s case, IF the promotor included brown M&Ms in the bowl, THEN the band knew they did not comply with contract details and would forfeit their earnings.

If you’re ever feeling stuck or procrastinating, you too can apply this “if/then” approach.  

Tell yourself – you will take action IF something else happens. And IF that does happen, you commit to THEN following through.

For example, perhaps you have a colleague that knocks your ideas down in front of other colleagues.  It bothers you when it happens. It’s been a couple of months since they did this last, but it’s been on your mind, and you’ve hesitated to talk with them. It’ll be awkward, embarrassing and you’re not quite even sure how to bring it up, so you’ve avoided doing anything about it.   The “if/then” approach, in this example, would be that “if’ this colleague knocks another idea down again, “then” you will say raise the issue with them, discreetly. In essence, it’s a promise you’re making to yourself.  Think of it as your bottom line – if that line gets crossed – it’s a call to action for you.  Since you’ve already pre-determined what the appropriate action is, it will be easier to follow through since you already made that commitment. Try it out!

For more conflict resolution strategies, join the University Ombuds Office this month of September on Wednesday 9/20 at 12 noon via Zoom as we begin exploring the habits, we can implement to better manage conflict. To register email ombuds@vt.edu