Why is it so hard to get people to change behaviors?

Melissa Pollock




We've said we coach so people know what behaviors to repeat, and what behaviors to change.  It’s not news that change is interpersonally uncomfortable, but what we may not be considering is that human beings also do not change just because we’re asked.  Let's be clear - we all want to do better, but if we knew how to change in order to do, or be, better at something, we likely would!


We ask directs to do or achieve an outcome, like hit a sales or a service goal – or we ask them to achieve something conceptual but non-specific, like ‘be more empathetic’, or ‘more sincere’, or ‘less formal’.  As such, coaching conversations are not often about specific behaviors to do, or not do, but are more often just discussions of desired results that carry an expectation for the individual to know how to go make it happen. 


Talk about setting ourselves up for disappointment; this is why most good employees leave us – not because we’re horrible managers, but because we’re incapable of modifying behavior to mobilize morale and performance in our people!


Another challenge in achieving behavior change is rooted in the textbook definition of behavior, which is fairly universally noted as ‘actions’ or ‘the things we do’.  And while absolutely accurate, the scope of this definition falls far short when it comes to effective coaching.  Consider this...all behavior IS action, but there are different categories of actions, and that differentiation is extremely useful when observing and evaluating performance in preparation for coaching. 

We can break down behaviors, actions, into two categories – those we can see, and those we can hear.  And we can further break down how we experience each of these categories as follows: 


Visual Behaviors


1. Physical actions - What I do

Ex: I see you are talking with someone

2. Non-Verbal actions - How I do it  

Ex: Your stance is stationary, open, facing the person


Auditory Behaviors


1. Language - What I say

Ex: I hear you say, ‘I will definitely call you tomorrow”

2. Vocal delivery - How I say it

Ex: I hear you emphasize the word ‘definitely’


For example, to evaluate a manager’s performance I might attend a team meeting he facilitates. I would observe his body movements to evaluate how he carries himself, how he supports his communication with facial expressions and hand-gestures that emphasize emotion and intensity.  I would listen to his vocal delivery – the volume and annunciation displaying his confidence and enthusiasm.  I would consider his language choice in assessment of successful transference of the message he meant to convey.  


Looking at behavior with this perspective allows us to move from thinking about ‘performance’, which is large and ambiguous, to instead thinking about a collection of very specific and tangible behaviors – which drastically simplifies our understanding of what to observe in evaluation of that performance.  This in turn equips us to have specific coaching conversations around effective behaviors to repeat, and less effective behaviors to change.  See the circle?

Customer Experience Update