Don’t just change outward behavior

Last time we talked about making sure you provide the right tools to your clients in order to facilitate real behavior change. Today we’ll go beyond behavior change, because behavior change alone is not enough. Let’s talk about secret number six:

  1. Change thoughts and feelings, not just behavior.

Ironically, behavior change programs that focus only on behavior usually fail. Change efforts must include attention to the building blocks of behavior — the way we think about a situation and our emotional response to it.  Emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are interdependent. To get a sustainable change in one, you must change the others.

For example, leaders who believe that people are fundamentally lazy are likely to feel annoyed with them, which will come out in those leaders’ behavior — the way they look, speak, and respond to people. Alternatively, leaders who believe that people are fundamentally motivated to perform will probably feel positively toward them. That positive feeling will come out in their behavior, through encouragement, recognition, and respect. Helping the first group of leaders to change how they think about people may lead to a change in behavior, which in turn may elicit different results from followers.

In other situations, you might have to focus on emotions first. For example, anxious leaders are likely to be either passive or irritable with their followers. Helping those leaders feel calmer is likely to help them become more patient, and better listeners. The point is that programs that provide access to all three components of human psychology triple their potential effectiveness.

Here’s  a true story: Some years ago, a particular large grocery store had poor customer service, of long-standing. Behavior-focused programs failed to achieve sustainable results. What did work was creating a new emotional atmosphere in the store, accomplished in part by resolving long-standing conflicts among key individuals. Other chronic complaints among employees were addressed, creating a new belief that management cared about employee welfare. That new belief translated into sustainable employee behavior geared toward caring about customers, resulting in a highly significant benefit to the store’s bottom line.

To illustrate, when you think about something in a certain way (“Customers are so aggravating! I just got these shelves straightened out and they come along and rummage through them looking for what they want. Now I have to straighten them all over again!”), you have certain feelings about it (anger, annoyance!), which cause you to behave in a certain way (casting disparaging glances at the customers, not getting out of their way so they can find what they’re looking for, not being helpful). Change the way you think about it, maybe through an insight or new information that you trust (“Say, I just realized that if it weren’t for these customers, I wouldn’t have a job!”), and you start feeling differently (“Customers are worth their weight in gold! I love customers!”), and suddenly your behavior is different as well (“I’ll arrange things so our customers can find them easily. “How can I help you, ma’am?”).

Next time, let’s talk about our final secret to a good EQ program, secret number seven.

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