Since this blog is about changing behaviour and as we are getting closer to Christmas, I will start with a pig. Once I had a pet pig, Gristina, one of those miniature pigs you can keep in the house. My husband had trained a lot of dogs, and said the pig was way more intelligent than any dog he had ever come across. Yet it was near impossible to get Gristina to behave. Why? Because pigs don’t care about the flock at all. What they care about is their next meal and possibly their offspring. Dogs are pack animals, the hierarchy is the first thing they establish, be it human or another dog: Who’s in charge?
We are very similar to dogs; we care about each other and our colleagues in the workplace. If you’ve ever dipped into psychodynamic theories about group development, or say Tavistock management, you know this is true. We care, and therefore we work great together. Caring is the best motivation for changing.
Changing someone else is a mission impossible. Most therapists will tell you this; in fact they will tell you, and it doesn’t matter if it’s your partner or your parents, that the only one you can change is yourself. This in itself is sometimes a real challenge.
Yet, one of the chores of a manager is to change people, when they are not performing to your expectations or when they are not achieving set goals. Some would even say it’s a moral obligation. When something isn’t working, when what we do is not helping us in our endeavour, as a manager the job is to help people do better, and make them change, or make them want to change. Because that really is the trick, isn’t it? Here are two tips on how-to.
Why are you telling me this?
Have you established trust? Creating the will to change in other people starts with trust. Yeah, sure I can threaten people to make a change, but that’s probably not the kind of change that will last. In any given situation, if someone is giving you negative feedback, you might start to feel defensive. It’s a very natural reaction. It’s not nice to hear that you are not good enough or that you are doing something wrong when you want to be doing it right. But before any of us is willing to listen and take in any advice on how or what to change, we need to let down our guard and stop defending ourselves. So if you are the one handing out critique don’t expect people to change if they feel threatened and if they don’t trust that you are doing it with the best intentions.
A lot of times when we hand out feedback, we haven’t really thought about what change we want to see. We know what we don’t want, but that’s not the same. Are you just passing judgement or do you want to see a different behaviour? If the latter is true, then you need to also communicate this to the person you are criticising. Radical candor is good; just remember there are two parts in it: telling it as you see it and caring about one another.
Your truth or mine
There are very few real truths when it comes to human behaviour; it’s not like math or chemistry. Most behaviour can be perceived in a lot of different ways. The way we perceive people are based on a million incidents before we even met them and science will debate forever about how much is in your genes and how much is a learned behaviour. Either way, no two people will see the world exactly the same. So if we get stuck in trying to decide what the truth really is, we are probably going nowhere. Yet it’s so easily done.
It might seem like mincing words, but there’s a world of difference in saying “You are arrogant” or saying “When you don’t say hello to me, I feel that you are being arrogant”. Then, what I’m saying is not a truth that needs to be disputed. It is something that I feel, and it is presented as an observation. But so much of what we say on a daily basis in regular conversation is presented as facts, not observations; it’s a difficult thing to change. Start listening to yourself and others and see if you can spot the difference.
When done right, a company culture of open feedback is the most effective way to great results.
P.S. Gristina eventually had to go. She attacked a visiting friend as he entered the kitchen, as this had now become Gristina’s territory and she was defending it viciously. We found a family with a house way out in the woods that wanted a pet pig. Much better - for all of us.