Two Tactics for When You Must Ban

Driving up Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda, MD, I go by a major entrance to the National Institutes of Health, which on October 1, 2008, declared itself a tobacco free facility. Here it is over a year later, and what do you see at the entrance? Answer: groups of smokers huddled around outdoor ashtrays.

They are clustered around a trailer just outside the imposing gates, cigarettes in hand. blooming billows of smoke. It looks to me as though they have been forced to the outer perimeter by their unwelcome habit. Here they make a tableau: the Smokers of NIH.

I do not see doctors, researchers, medical breakthroughs. I see tobacco addicts rounded up and forced outside the walls of the campus, their visible density increased and their representative percentage of the NIH population accented.

What message are you sending to your public?  Are you flushing your unwelcome to the interface? Or do you have a strategy to ensure that your policies and well-intentioned acts are seen for what they are? Why not give the smokers a different place to gather, one that does not put them square in the public eye at the gateway to the palace?

Here are two tactics for the next time you ban a destructive behavior:

1. Provide the old school with a gracious exit. Rather than forcing them to carry out their ways just beyond your reach, give them an attractive alternative. In this case, perhaps instead of storing the ashtrays outside the entrance gate, there could be a park in a less obtrusive location.

2. Import the outside view. As a passer-by, every day I see the sign declaring NIH tobacco-free in stark contrast to the employees lighting up.  It’s not exactly convincing.  Who is providing NIH with the feedback they so desperately need? Who is providing you with an outside view of your effort? Do they have a voice that is easy to hear, and are you paying attention?

Nothing is easy in our interconnected age. Nothing is simple, either. When you must officially prohibit a behavior, make sure you don’t suffer the unintended consequence of the equal and opposite reaction. Instead, work a little harder to see things from other perspectives.

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