Message from Julie: Want to Change Your Team’s Behavior? Change Your Behavior First

message from julie: want to change your team's behavior? change your behavior first 1

As you might guess, when someone reaches out to me for training or coaching it is often because they want someone else to change. They want their team to be more proactive or collaborative. They want a direct report to be a better leader or to make better decisions. In fact, most interpersonal conflicts involve one or both parties wanting the other to change or do something differently.  

The irony is we can’t make someone else change their behavior. We are however in total control of our own behavior – and changing our own behavior is the easiest and most effective way to influence someone else to change their behavior.  

Think about it like this, doing what you are currently doing is getting you the results you are currently getting. If you want different results, then change what you are doing. You and everyone else involved in the situation are likely acting in a habitual way – responding the same way to the same ques or triggers repeatedly. Your (and everyone else’s) response has become ingrained and is habitual. 

These habitual actions are holding the dynamics of the relationship together. It’s like having a piece of rope tied in a loop with everyone pulling on the rope just hard enough to keep it taunt. If one person in the group yanks the rope hard or lets it drop to the ground it will change the dynamics of the entire group. I would argue that dropping the rope is typically more effective than yanking it except in a crisis or for the occasional “wake-up call”. 

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There is a Neurolinguistics Programming (NLP) tenant that reinforces the idea that it is most effect to focus on changing your own behavior. It is the concept of a well-formed outcome being self-initiated and self-maintained. This means when we define a goal or desired outcome, we need to be sure it is something that we want for ourselves (not someone else) and have the ability to achieve ourselves rather than it being something someone else needs to do. For example, an outcome of one of your team members making better decisions is not self-maintained. Becoming a more effective at coaching so you can help them develop this skill would be self-maintained. 

Three Ways to Influence Change 

If you want your team, a direct report, colleague, your boss (or even your spouse or kids) to change here are three behavior changes you might want to try: 

Ask more and tell less: If you want someone to make a change try asking more questions. Questions are often a more powerful form of communication than statements for several reasons. First, for someone to respond to a question their brain must engage. Second, we are more likely to believe what we hear ourselves say than what we hear someone else say. Third, when you ask questions, it gives you information and helps you understand the situation more fully rather than immediately making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. Finally, asking questions expands possibilities. 

In an article Amy Morin cites research that asking a closed ended question about the future is one of the most effective ways to influence change. She says a question like “Are you going to set aside money for retirement?” creates a level of slight discomfort that motivates change.  

Set aside assumptions and become curious: Another NLP concept that is helpful when looking at influencing change is the presupposition that behind every behavior is a positive intention. We often assume we know why someone else is doing what they are doing and then make judgements about the behavior and the person. Start by seeing if you can set aside these assumptions and judgements, accept the person (not the behavior) for who they are, and be curious as to what needs might be driving the behavior. By doing this you may be able to help the person identify actions that would be more effective in achieving their desired outcome. One of the ways to do this is to begin to question our assumptions and judgments by asking questions like: “Is that really true?” What else could be true?” 

Create an environment that encourages the behaviors you desire: I believe one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to create a culture where team members can contribute to their full potential. As leaders our behaviors are a key factor in creating culture. To do this, clearly identify the behaviors you want from your team and seriously assess how your current actions may be inhibiting team members from taking the actions you want them to. For example, if you say you want your team to take more initiative but every time someone does,  you find fault with it, redo the work yourself, or even reprimand the person it won’t take long for lack of initiative in the form of learned helplessness to set in. 

The bad news is you cannot make anyone else change their actions. The good news is you have the ability to change your own behavior which is the quickest and easiest way to get someone else to change.  

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