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You Can’t Change People, but You Can Change Their Behavior
Marsha Egan, CSP - Workplace Productivity Coach and E-mail Expert Marsha Egan, CSP - Workplace Productivity Coach and E-mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Nantucket, MA
Wednesday, January 12, 2022


When I was a child, my father’s favorite line when disciplining (ok, lovingly correcting) me was ‘I’ll always love you, but sometimes I may not like what you do’. No matter how well a workplace operates, so long as people are in it, there will be behavioral issues, concerns and idiosyncrasies which require careful management

Many people try to handle these issues by ignoring them in the hope that they will go away. This is rarely successful. This is why we correct our children when they behave inappropriately, otherwise they will believe that what they have done is acceptable. Usually in these cases, the unaddressed behavior will come back twice as severe, causing more trouble in the process.

The only way to improve someone’s behavior is to give the person in question some specific behavioral feedback. This involves taking the person aside, explaining what behavior was observed and how it might benefit from some adjustment. There is a huge difference between addressing the person and addressing the behavior. Saying “there were several spelling and grammatical errors in your report” is a vastly different statement to “you have a really bad attitude”. One statement addresses the behavior, and the other is directed at the person.

If you stick to the specific observable behavior, then people are more likely to do something about it. It’s hard to argue with facts, it’s easier to understand what needs to change, and it reduces the risk of someone taking it personally. Here are some examples of how to do it:

* “I noticed you have been at least 10 minutes late to work four times in the last two weeks.”
* “For the last 3 weeks, the staff kitchen has been left untidy each time it has been your turn on the roster.”
* “I noticed that you interrupted the client 4 times during our luncheon.”
* “Each time I have visited your workstation this week, I noticed you using the internet for personal reasons.”

On the other hand, bringing up facets of an individual’s personality or being subjective can create defensiveness, or angry or emotional responses. Here are some ‘how not to do it’ examples:

* “Your attitude to customers is downright unpleasant.”
* “Your personal problems are seriously affecting the quality of your work.”
* “You are loud and obnoxious with colleagues.”

If you want to change someone’s behavior, it’s more likely to stick if they understand the change and agree with it. After you’ve broached the subject, maintain a consistent and proactive approach to promoting the right behavior. If you believe that the individual can and will make the change, then that expectation and belief will transfer to the subject. Show them your belief, and allow it to become a self fulfilling prophecy.

This approach can help reduce feelings of defensiveness – it feels much more like coaching, and much less like a ‘telling off’. Coaching is two people working together, one helping the other to reach higher goals, and there is a greater chance that they will respond positively. In order to achieve this, it’s vital to build rapport at the outset, which fosters trust and reduces tension. Being positive and friendly sets the tone for it to be reciprocated.

Once a rapport is achieved, it is important to explain in a clear and unambiguous manner what behavior needs to be corrected and why, using specific examples, not generalized subjectivity. Describe not only what the misstep is, but how the correct handling of the task should look. This helps the person to see where they need to be. Once you have reached an agreement, move on and don’t dwell on it.

Usually, the behavior is going to need fixing in some way. It is important that the person who created the problem is the person who does the fixing. This is important for two reasons: Firstly, it prevents resentment for others who may otherwise be cleaning up the instigator’s mess and, more importantly, it’s a good learning tool for the person who made the mistake. It is a good idea to work with the person to create clearly defined steps as to how this will be done, along with a timetable. It is even more important to reassure the person and confirm your belief that they can do it. This will give the improved behavior energy. I cannot stress this enough.

Of course, no matter how hard you try, there may be times when people just don’t get it. This is where the ‘rule of three’ can be useful; meaning that, if you’ve had three discussions with the same person regarding similar problems, you need to take a more formal approach to the problem. This could mean removing the person from the situation, or starting disciplinary procedures. Hopefully, this should be infrequent.

We’re all human, and none of us are perfect. It’s how you deal with these imperfections which will have a direct impact on how the person buys into making the change, and your overall results. The most important thing to take away from all of this is that when you believe in people, and give them the respect of an honest coaching discussion, they will do their best for you.

About Marsha Egan, CPCU, CSP, PCC, ICF-Certified CoachMarsha Egan, is CEO of the Egan Group, Inc., Nantucket MA and an internationally recognized professional speaker. She is a leading authority on email productivity. Her acclaimed ?12 Step Program for E-Mail E-ddiction? received international attention, being featured on ABC Nightly News, Fox News, and newspapers across the globe. In early 2009, the program was adapted into a book, Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence (Acanthus 2009 - http://InboxDetox.com/book) Marsha works with forward-thinking organizations that want to create a profit-rich and productive email culture. Marsha was named one of Pennsylvania?s Top 50 Women in Business in 2006.
News Media Interview Contact
Name: Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC
Title: CEO
Group: InboxDetox.com, a division of The Egan Group, Inc.
Dateline: Nantucket, MA United States
Cell Phone: 610-780-1640
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