Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to change someone's behavior in one second

Impossible? As I talked about in my last blog, I'm currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the chapters in the book talks about changing someone's point of view. The author, Stephen Covey, uses a story as an allegory for this shift. Here is a brief recap.

Stephen Covey talks about a time that he was riding on the subway. He was sitting reading when a gentleman got on the train with three small children. The new man sat down, stared blankly forward, and didn't say a word. His children, however, weren't so peaceful. They began running up and down the subway car, hooting and hollering like mad banshees.

At first he tried to ignore the situation, but eventually it became too much for him to bear. The children were bumping into other riders, knocking over briefcases, and causing all kinds of chaos.

Finally he had enough, he said to the man, "Sir, you have to do something about these kids. They're way out of control!"

The man seemed to snap out of a daze. He looked over at the children running rampant, and then back at Stephen Covey. "Yes", he said, "I'm so sorry about that. See, their mother, my wife, just passed away last night. We are heading back home. I guess they don't know how to handle what has happened, and to be honest with you, neither do I".


Feel like a total jerk? So did I.

So what changed? The children were still acting in a distracting way. The father was still doing nothing to rein them in. So what changed? Your perspective changed. The insight that you now had as to what this man was going through changed. In a split second your entire outlook on this man was forever altered. I've heard it said that: To know all, is to forgive all.

How to put this into effect? This past spring I coached my son's flag football team. It was a 10-12 league, and we sadly had almost all 10 year olds. Two years when you're talking that age really matters, so we didn't do all that well in the win/loss aspect of the game.

They also weren't terribly interested in football as well, which proved to be frustrating. By the end of the season I had all but given up. Sure I could get them to learn the basics of a few plays, but I could not get them to grasp the concepts of why we were doing what we were doing. I was probably expecting too much from them.

I had one child in particular that I had a hard time keeping involved. If I wasn't on him the entire practice his gaze would stray and he'd begin to focus on anything other than what we were doing. It was most troublesome because he was actually one of the most talented kids! So as the season was winding down I completely changed my strategy.

I stopped trying to rein them in. I stopped trying to keep them focused on the practice. Guess what happened? My space cadet turned into a drill instructor! He couldn't stand the madness that started swirling around him. He started barking orders, demanding that everyone get their head's in the game. I had tried all season to get a response like this, and what had it taken for me to get what I wanted? I had to stop trying to get what I wanted.

The moral? It's easier to change someone's perspective than it is to change them. Someone not following orders? Put them in charge. Someone not pulling their weight? Take it away from them and see what they do.

If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems are going to start looking like nails. That is just not how it works with people. Different people require different management approaches. Best to familiarize yourself with several different kinds so that you can scroll through them to see what gets you the best response.

In the long run it will save you time and headache. And isn't that the point?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, I'll have to try that strategy sometime :)