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To Change Behavior, Help People Think

As a coach, my job is to help people improve their performance. There
are a lot of people out there trying to do the same thing--parents,
executives,teachers, doctors, supervisors, you name it. Maybe you.

Doesn't it feel great when you're successful, when a conversation or
something you did helped someone else turn it around? Isn't it
frustrating when nothing seems to change?

David Rock in his book, Quiet Leadership, (www.resultscoaching.com )contends that coaching someone to better performance is harder than we think. We often get it wrong.
Most people, he says, try to change performance by giving advice. According to Rock, that rarely works.

Why? First, it's really hard to change a habit. Behaviors create a neural pathway in the brain. The more you engage in that behavior, the stronger the pathway becomes. Habits have strong pathways. The brain wants to use that pathway. The only way the pathway disappears is through disuse. To do that, the brain must create a new pathway and the only way to do that is to create a new behavior. The more the new behavior is used, the stronger its pathway becomes. The old habit fades as its pathway no longer is utilized. Finding a new behavior you are motivated to pursue is critical to changing behavior.

Second, no two brains are alike. What might help you make a shift won't
mean anything to someone else because your brains are different. However, most people assume “what works for me will work for you.” It doesn’t.

Third, it takes a lot of emotional energy to change a habit. It goes
beyond just wanting to change. It's energy that accompanies the sense
that you want it, you see the solution, you know you can do it. No one
can tell you these things. The energy is generated from within. Having
an "aha moment," an insight, creates this energy. But there's a catch.
My insight probably won't provide enough energy to change your
behavior. Your insight will. Giving advice to someone else is pretty useless.

So there are two small things we can do differently to be more
helpful, more influential. We can help others create new habits
instead of trying to break the old ones, and we can help others think
for themselves instead of doing the thinking for them. Helping others
think for themselves means shifting the way we approach developmental
conversations--changing the questions we ask and the responses we

We must ask open questions rather than closed ones. We must resist giving advice and listen. We must give the person our full attention. We must encourage rather than discourage. Sometimes it means we must replace our old habits of helping with new ones! It’s worth it, though. You’ll see the person’s eyes look up as they begin thinking, you’ll see the energy released as they get an answer, and you’ll experience the connection that comes from helping someone solve their own problem.

One Response to "To Change Behavior, Help People Think"

  • mary b
    August 5, 2008 - 10:00 pm Reply

    Really enjoyed your blog today, Plum! You are so right about helping people to change by creating a space for them to “get it” themselves. This is a fundamental practice of good teachers as well. Almost no one learns anything from a staight lecture. It is basically like giving advice. Actual learning comes from practice and problem solving. Good teachers understand that concept and provide opportunities for students to connect the synapsis in their own brains.
    What is a good manager if not a teacher? Isn’t it really the job of the manager to prepare their staff to take over their position so they can move up in a company or just function better? Therefore good managers/leaders are teaching the skills necessary to assume a higher position. Giving employees the chance to connect the synapsis in their own brains will allow growth to happen.
    Thanks for the good, clear reminder/advice in the blog.

    Best wishes,
    Mary B.

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