Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The 4-step Approach to Requesting a Behavior Change

We have all experienced a situation where we had a communication barrier or wanted to change a co-worker's or boss' negative behavior. Often, we blunder into this situation unsure how to handle it and the outcome is even worse than the original problem. Alternatively, we ignore the situation, hoping it will go away, and silently suffer. I would like to present you with a 4-step process that I used to teach in a professional communication course that I believe will work in most any situation.

Step 1 - Validate the Person.
People have filters in place that affect how they perceive communication, these could be the result of their attitude, prejudices, past experiences our other influences such as stress. You can not control their filters, but you can control your communication style. Keep your style assertive, yet positive. To start the conversation off on a positive note, start with the person's name, acknowledge their value and worth, and offer them a compliment.

"Sally, I really enjoy working with you because you are really good with diffusing upset customers and building customer relationships."

Step 2 - Objectively Describe the Situation
You can't hope to change the behavior unless you clearly and objectively describe the behavior. Don't use labels or inflammatory language. Simply state, in neutral terms, the behavior that you find upsetting or that you would like to change.

"We are a good team here at the ABC Company. When you say negative things about our co-workers and they are not around to hear them or to defend themselves . . . . (to be continued in Step 3).

Step 3 - Express your Feelings and Thoughts
Be very careful to use "I" statements in this step, never say "you make me feel." No one can make you feel something, you are in charge of your thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Remember to take accountability for your feelings, since you are the one asking for the change.

" . . . . I feel uncomfortable because I am afraid it might undermine our team environment."

Step 4 - Specify the Change you Would Like to See
At this point, you are able to ask for the change. The reason this is so effective is that you approach the issue from your point of view and ask the person to understand and accept your feelings. Most of the time, people don't think of how their actions affect others.

Ask the person for just one observable behavior change. What you ask for should be related to what you have been discussing and should be something with which you can both identify. Be sure to ask for the person's agreement with what you are asking before you end the conversation.

"I would like it if you would stop talking about other people when they are not a part of the conversation. I think that if we could all keep our negative thoughts or judgments to ourselves, we could be a much stronger team. Would you be willing to make this change, Sally?"

This approach is a very positive, professional, and assertive way of dealing with issues that works to protect the relationship of the two people talking. Of course it will not work every time. Some people are just difficult. Check back on Thursday for a discussion on what to do when the positive approach does not work.

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