Actually, nobody uses the words in this post’s title. What people often ask me is “How can I help this person make such a challenging personal change?” They might be talking about someone who is reserved, aggressive, shows their anxiety, or any other set of behaviors that are problematic. My use of “pattern of action or thinking” is to acknowledge that while we might use one word to describe someone who is “aggressive” in meetings, we are probably talking about multiple aspects of behaviors that we label aggressive. It is a pattern that we are seeing.
A Big Caveat—If you are identifying something that is truly “wired” into the person, the development process is not as easy as the three-step solution below. In fact, it is not easy at all. That’s part of your work to balance between setting the expectation and the difficulty the person may have in changing.
First, Give The Gift of Observation
The first (and maybe most important) action you can take is to really observe what occurs and the consequences. Set aside your judgment of the person and their actions. That may be hard to do, because their behavior is likely problematic for you; and, you work hard or naturally do not act that way. So, pay attention to what you hear the person say/do, when, and to whom? How often and in what situations? Lay out the facts as you have observed them.
Second, Encourage Self-Undersatnding
Please don’t try to tell the person why he or she is behaving in such a way. No matter how well you know the person, you can only be guessing (maybe a good guess, but only a guess). As human beings, we are so complex that it’s better to simply say, “It’s really your work to figure out how this pattern has developed, why it worked in the past, and whether you want to make any modifications.” Or ask a question like “what do you think is going on?” If you have a personal story of some behavior or pattern that you are working to improve, that’s a perfect way to encourage someone else to do the same self-assessment. But, leave the professional counseling work to a professional.
Third, Suggest A Coach or Mentor
You can be a manager-coach for the person, or it’s possible the perfect informal coach is another trusted peer or colleague. The point here is that it is hugely valuable for a person to have someone else to help them develop and monitor the following three steps.
- Set Your Intention—An overall picture of a new, preferred approach or set of actions is critical. For example, if my current pattern is to withdraw when the dialogue gets combative, I have to imagine how I would behave in future situations and to what end/result. Then, prior to a meeting or conversation, I can “intend” and make a commitment to myself to anticipate the “triggers” for my automatic approach and plan my new approach .
- Stop Yourself In Action—If I find myself, leaning back and wanting to leave that meeting, worrying about the danger implied in the conflict, I can stop myself and ask “Am I more committed to the past or my desired future?” I can then say something in the meeting such as “I’ve been quiet so far, but I have a few strong views” or “I’m listening to the conflict here and want to ask a few questions.”
- Repair The “Damage”—If I didn’t realize until too late that I stepped right into exactly what I didn’t want to do, then at least I can figure out a way to address the situation. If I let the team down or simply myself down by not staying actively engaged, then I can go to the right person and have a follow-up conversation on the topic. The reason this can be instrumental is that no one wants to follow-up on their missteps, at least not repeatedly.
I told you this guidance would seem way too easy. But, I’ve found that it works for myself and others. Not perfectly and not all the time. That’s because some of the aspects of our style and personality are pretty difficult to change.
The magic is when the person can get underneath the pattern of thinking or action and really understand himself or herself.
If you stay in your role, you can be satisfied that you were clear about what you observe and why change is important to the person’s success. Then, follow-up, be a coach, and see what they can do over time.