Why Won’t People Change?

Some of your people drive you crazy. They behave in a manner that you disapprove of and have been counseled, but keep behaving in the same manner. What is wrong with them … or what is wrong in your approach? Many people know they should change their behavior and yet makes a decision not to change. Why? Leaders think communicating the rationale of the need for change through training or communications will get people to change their behaviors and practices, but this often fails. If you cannot make them change, why not look at the one thing which you can change and that is your behavior.

First, let’s identify some of the actions which keep your people stuck. The first is your perception of them. Perceptions are tricky things and often misleading. For example, you have a star employee and you see him or her by the coffee pot talking to someone. What is your perception? The answers I usually hear are, “they are probably discussing a work issue.” Now two hours later you see another employee whom you consider a slacker. They are standing by the same coffee pot talking to someone. What is your perception? You may think, “there he or she is again….goofing off.” Human beings use something called selective reasoning where they only gather information which reinforces their belief about something or someone and discard anything that does not agree with their perception. Be careful you are not doing this.

The irony is that people will live up to your expectations 100 percent of the time and unless you allow them to change they will not. Often you need to start by changing your behavior first. There are a number of things a leader can do to increase a person’s readiness to change and it starts with empathy. First, think of how you currently interact with your most difficult employee. Is it supportive or judgmental? Do you shame the person when they make a mistake? Look at how you handle your star employee and contrast it with the way you handle your most difficult employee. Although you need to use situational leadership with people to account for their personal differences, are you being overly harsh with your difficult person? If you are, make a decision to do things differently.

Whenever you change behavior in a low trust relationship, the person will question what is going on. To eliminate this or at the very least modify their reaction, frame the situation for them, by letting them know your desired outcome. You could say, “During previous discussions regarding your performance, we have set out guidelines for change, but I would also like to work on the way we relate as well. If you notice differences in the way I communicate, it is because I am working on myself in that regard.” Being vulnerably honest can help the other person to put down their guard, and will aid in how they perceive you.

Secondly, determine what is in it for them to change and bring it into your conversations. Ask them if they want to change and will commit to doing so. If they do. ask them for input into how you can support their change. Individuals that are not in the in-crowd often feel like outcasts and you want them to feel like they are part of the team.

Finally, mentor them and make sure they have the tools and skills to make the changes. Give them plenty of on-going feedback and make it clear regarding the behaviors you want them to continue. Instead of saying good job, explain the behaviors they did that you liked. For example, “You did a really good job when you asked Sally what she needed because it allowed you both to save time coming to agreement regarding your roles, and sped up the process,” It is also helpful to let them know how that helped the team and organization. “That allowed us to meet our deadline and satisfy our customer.”

Celebrating their successes and new ways of behaving by giving them public recognition. Understand that this person will make some mistakes along the way, but with support and recognition the positives will outweigh the negatives. Changing a long term behavior is a very difficult thing to so but taking time to support the person will end up in a win-win situation for both the employee and the organization. It all starts with you.

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