“Steve, I need some help with something.”
That’s how my friend of 30 years, John, opened our Saturday morning coffee meeting. I feared the worst. I’m acutely aware of the problems that plague men of our age. I steeled myself to receive bad news.
“Rachel is a crackerjack leader on my administrative team. She’s smart, intuitive, and bold. I like that. What has me frustrated is, often she comes across too casual in her communication. I see the way the other team members respond to her: stifling a laugh when she curses or widening their eyes when she talks about the wild weekend she had. I want to help her be more professional.”
I’ve run into similar situations over my 40 year career. What I’ve learned is that the best way to change any ingrained behavior is to engage in deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is about intentional focus. Before deliberate practice can occur, a person has to be aware of their habitual behavior and want to change it. That’s the tricky part.
So I suggested John take a three step approach to help Rachel.
1. First, help her become aware.
2. Then, help her notice in the moment.
3. Finally, help her practice.
Here are the action steps we followed:
1. Explain the difference between casual and relaxed.
Professional, relaxed behavior requires a layer of intentional, mindful awareness that casual behavior does not.
At an upcoming event, find a person who you believe embodies the relaxed, professional behavior and another who embodies casual behavior. Take notes on the following 4 qualities:
a. Language - notice their choice of words, their delivery of those words. Do they use filler words, such as “like”, swear words, etc.? Do they use soft language (could of, should of, sort of… )?
Body language - do they slouch, fidget, talk with their hands?
b. Detractors - does their behavior detract from their message in any way? Are they chewing gum? Are they making eye contact? Or are they looking around the room, checking their phone, etc.?
c. Other Centered - are they other centered (50% of the time spent listening) or are they self-centered (dominating the conversation, one-upping, etc.)?
3. Meet to discuss observations and role play.
Over the next few months, John reported on Rachel’s progress. He specifically noted that the hardest part of the whole plan was the initial conversation when he broached the subject. But as he laid out the observation assignment she got excited at the task, and her role playing was downright hilarious. “We had a lot of fun exaggerating the behavior she was noticing. It was great to see her learning so much and having a great time doing it.”
Eventually he started to notice subtle changes in her behavior. He noticed how she started actively listening to her colleagues more; she was no longer dominating every conversation. He heard little to no swearing in her speech. And though they had never discussed it explicitly, she began coming to work in more professional clothing. She was on time or early to meetings now, which was also new.
John told me recently that at Rachel’s annual review he remarked on her commitment to excellency, and she replied, “Yeah, it’s amazing how much you can pick up if you just pay attention.”
Pay attention. The first step in changing any behavior.
Onward and Upward,