Getting behing behaviour
We naturally react to behaviour. In this article, management coach and trainer Alec McPhedran explains the Behind Behaviour model he developed to discuss and explore performance management and change in people.
One of the things I really enjoy is the discussion I have when training or coaching managers on behaviour. Our instincts of flight, fight or play dead dominate our subconscious reactions to others behaviour. The challenge for managers is to build on others good behaviour or change underperforming or unacceptable behaviour. What we need to underdstand is why do people behave as they do in order to identify how to help with behaviour change.
The Behind Behaviour model is a mix of theories developed to have a discussion with others on understanding behaviour. Once we have some approaches to underdstanding behavioiur, it helps to make it more targetted and focussed in the areas to work on in coaching or motivating others to want to change. One of the theories I use by way of example is the 21 Day Habit Theory from Maxwell Maltz. In his work as a plastic surgeon, he suggests “…that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” This statement was picked up and, the quote was shortened to “It takes 21 days to form a new habit”. Equally we have the outcome of a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology which analysed the habits of 96 people over 12 weeks. On average, it is said that a habit takes around 2 months to become an automatic behaviour – 66 days to be exact. For some this can take up to eight months.
Despite the debates over these and other theories and concepts about behaviour and habit, the point of the simplicity of the Maltz theory is to explain to managers that just instructing someone to change their behaviour does not work. It takes time. So, in a behaviour change context, we explore how managers need to offer support, coaching, praise and consistency over a period of time and to identify when the new behaviour has been embedded and anchored. Pretty much to the point of unconscious competence.
For managers, we work on the fact that in the main, the team behaves as you allow them. Habit is a repetitive behaviour to almost the point of unconscious action – good or bad. We need to agree standards of behaviour, what drives their behaviour and then how to support and change behaviour to, as previously mentioned, unconscious competence. Hence the development of the Behind Behaviour model.
The behaviour is the external bit we see, hear or feel. It is what we tend to make our judgements on about the other person. Some theory has it that we make out ‘perceived’ judgement within four seconds, some theory almost 1/29th of a second. Again, this is because fight, flight or play dead has took over as a self preservation mechanism. People can manage their behaviour. Tools such as Emotional Intelligence pick up on this. The way we behave is the way we can brand ourselves.
We all have our personal values. They are what our parents, grandparents, guardians, family and culture have given us. It embeds itself on average up to the age of sevenish and remains constant for 80% of our lives. It takes a significant life changing experience to change our values. Our values are what are important to us, they are an expression of personal worth – good or bad. As Aristotle is said ‘Give me a child up to the age of seven and I will show you the man.’ In coaching and looking at behaviour change, we can only tend to appreciate values and work with them as they will unlikely want to change their values. We are all different and we should value difference.
Our values in turn inform us of our beliefs of the world. If I value honesty, then I believe people should be and are more likely to be honest. Beliefs are what people hold to be true. People use their beliefs to help them understand the world around them. Exploring beliefs in behaviour change gives a useful platform to build on for moving behaviour, It links to motivation and self-fulfilment.
As we grow and develop, we accumulate experiences. We associate our experiences with the emotions and feelings linked to those experiences. Some we want more of, some we want to avoid happening again. If people link their beliefs to their experiences, it significantly forms their view of the world. Everybody has significantly different experiences to everyone else. We are all different. In looking at behaviour change, perhaps understanding their experiences and the positive emotions to build on can help. We can explore the negative experiences and emotions and if appropriate, look at different ways to approach and overcome historical experiences. As we get older, we can tend to be more defensive or reluctant to change as the negative emotions and experiences can filter though first. When we were young, nothing held us back. We could do amazing things. It is that positivity that might be worth tapping in to.
In all of us, if our instincts work on our values, beliefs, experiences and emotions. That in turn contributes to our initial thinking. If unmanaged, we could work off our intuitive thinking. Some believe our instinctive thinking is a natural reaction of ‘bottom up’ thinking. They are based on instinct and are unintentional. Bottom up thinking is a survival based stress response brain threat detection system. Essentially driven by instinct. Alternatively, coaching behaviour change could look at ‘top down’ thinking. It takes time to develop top down thinking by evolving connections to the top part of our brain, essentially the executive function centre of the brain. Top down thinking is deliberate and intentional. In coaching, it means guiding others to pause for a second before habitually reacting and thinking in a different and positive way.
With all of the above happening in nano seconds, the challenge is to help others pause and reflect before acting. A key area to explore in behaviour change is an individuals ‘chosen’ attitude. We choose our attitude. I choose if I am going to argue back because you say my work is poor or I can pause, think and change my attitude to want to understand why you believe my work is poor? Our attitude manifests itself in the way we behave. If I am looking to change behaviour, I need to understand why did they behave that way? Why did they chose to take that attitude? It is a rich area to explore and then you can work on an individual to identify and develop strategies to manage their attitude in a more positive or progressive way.
From values to attitude, this is all the hidden area – the internal processing. In getting behind behaviour we need to work down the chain in order to change behaviour. The value of the Behind Behaviour model is in the discussion with in helping others to change behaviour and the areas potentially to explore and work on.
Of course, there are bits missing or that people disagree with regards to the Behind Behaviour model, but for me, it is an invaluable discussion tool in exploring behaviour change.
Telling people to behave in a different way does not work. Identifying why they behave as they do and how to develop approaches to self-change is the key focus. Changing behaviour takes time, support and appropriate positive reinforcement. As a manager I have learnt that people behave as you allow them. Understanding individuals and working with them is simply a great and positive investment of time.
The Behind Behaviour Model has been developed by Alec McPhedran Chtd Fellow CIPD, Chtd Mngr CMI, MAC, MCMI as a tool for people who coach or train others; to help understand potential areas to explore in managing behaviour change. Alec is the managing director of Skills Channel TV, the training company for busy creative people. He specialises in one to one coaching, facilitated learning, media training and team development. For further information, contact 0121 366 87 99 or visit www.skillschannel.tv.
Copyright © Alec McPhedran 2019