Accepting that one’s behaviour needs to change is never an easy thing.

It starts with toddlers!  Have you ever tried to encourage a toddler to change their behaviour when they’ve become convinced that the jam sandwich would taste much nicer after being smeared over the plasma screen?

School age children can be equally as defensive of their newly learned playground behaviors. (Inward groan from author’s own experience here).

And the teens……………!  Lets just gloss over that shall we!

Behaviour is learned, practiced and experimented with throughout our lives.  In adulthood we use the experiences that have gone before to use behaviours that become our way of reacting;  they are our templates, learned through infancy, childhood, early adulthood and into our later years.

We bring these templates to our work, changing and adapting from time to time,to fit a new challenge, a new environment or a different circumstance.  But what seems to happen is that we can get stuck, chose to avoid vulnerability, become lazy, or simply more defensive as time goes on when faced with an imminent ‘threat’ of change.

A previous article on ‘Dealing with Defensive Behaviours’ explored how personal defence strategies can block an individual’s ability to learn, develop or change behaviour in some way.  It was suggested that all the while an individual works at defending themselves from the perceived threat, they will be hampered considerably in their ability to change, develop and learn.

Lets assume a manager spots a personal defence strategy in use………maybe its repeated anger, irritation, suspected denial or unexpected emotion…..what happens next, how can the situation now progress?.  As we know, spotting them is just the start, and what follows will offer the manager the best opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the individual concerned, support them through their learning and make the necessary changes driven by the organization’s response to the customer’s requirement.

A sound way of progressing with an individual who appears to be demonstrating a defence strategy is to turn an issue that currently seems undiscussable into a subject that is discussable.   Remember that the defence strategy keeps the individual removed from the issue that has caused them to react in this way, thus offering some kind of protection.  Whilst protected, it is likely that the real feelings, concerns and beliefs about the issue are not being discussed.

So how could a discussion begin to happen?  To some it might feel distinctly uncomfortable to begin this kind of discussion (a defence strategy maybe?), or even out of bounds (its too personal perhaps?).  But what is clear is that those managers who work at improving their skills in dialogue will have heightened levels of interpersonal skills, improved people management skills and are ultimately more likely to deliver what their customer requires.

One technique for beginning dialogue about an individual’s true ‘wants’ and ‘values’ is the use of case studies for surfacing what’s behind the visisble behaviours used in a given situation.

The case study process first formulated by Chris Argyris of Harvard Business School has been extended in the UK by colleagues of mine at Consulting People Ltd to help people see how their thinking, feeling and intent shape the results they create.  This approach has been used with diverse organizations to deal with strategic, cultural and team issues.  The full case study process is complex and needs qualified facilitation, but for our benefit a simplified version is helpful.

Essentially, the case study process allows an individual to choose to surface data that has previously been undiscussed (invariably thoughts, feelings, emotions).  Having surfaced this data, clarity can now be achieved over what the individual really wants from a situation, or really wishes to defend.  Their true intent can begin to come to light.

A manager who begins to surface their own ‘undiscussables’, either privately or with a trusted colleague, begins to develop new approachability which in turn offers staff the opportunity to surface their own.  Offered these kind of insights, the manager immediately has an opportunity to support the development of the individual better, and indeed develop him/herself at the same time.

We all know that it can be ‘good to talk’.

All the while data (i.e. feelings, thoughts, unspoken beliefs etc.) remains undiscussed, then assumptions are made and the reality of the situation is stifled, thus hampering the potential for development and improvement of those concerned.  Used with managers, customer service teams, project teams or in designing change processes, the principles are widely supported in bringing the truth of a situation to light before beginning to build the platform for future change and development.

And as always, placing the onus for change with someone else is only half the story, as managers we need to accept the part we play in the process described above…..and take ownership for our own development in taking on a supporting role.