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The Simplest Way to Make Lasting Change

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

A few months ago I was in a coaching session with Don, the Director of Finance of a mid-sized manufacturing company. He had taken a 360 Leadership Assessment about 9 months prior.

Don learned that he was coming across very cynical and condescending with a few of his direct reports.

Since he was very open to the feedback, agreed he needed to change and knew how to change, his boss decided to allow Don to forego coaching. For the last few months, Don has focused on changing his behavior.

In the beginning, he did really well. He paid attention to the nonverbal cues he was sending. He raised his eyebrows up when listening, rather than burrowing them down. He made eye contact instead of multi-tasking. He nodded his head and listened patiently. He asked more questions, rather than telling people what to do. He acknowledged people for their input, and was even circling back around to follow up on things with folks.

Don was doing great! People were beginning to notice the change. And then something happened. Something that happens to so many of us who really do want a lasting change in our behaviors.

Don and I talked about thoughts and beliefs, and how they drive our actions. He realized he still believed that it was a waste of time to sit and listen patiently, and he felt like he was faking it while doing those nonverbal facial expressions. And deep down, he felt it was important to be tough and abrasive to make your point (a lot of which came from his upbringing). 

I’ve had many people I work with begin our session by telling me “I am who I am, I’m not really going to change that much. A zebra can’t change his stripes.”

Luckily we’re not talking about zebras because it would be almost impossible to change their stripes - and definitely not humane the way we’d have to go about it! Sayings such as “People don’t change, they reveal who they really are” don’t help either!

So what’s going on when someone works hard at changing their behavior, but it doesn’t last? It’s quite simple, really. They aren’t going to change their actions until they really change their thoughts and beliefs.

Once Don and I talked through the value of listening and patience, and the impact it makes, he started to shift his own thoughts and beliefs around it. When we got into discussing how to inspire and engage people, he agreed that being tough and abrasive doesn’t really work. Quite frankly, people end up faking it in front of you and can become more resistant than ever. It took a few sessions, some good questions, and intense self-reflection, and soon Don was feeling much more authentic and really valuing these behaviors. He mentioned in our recent session that he doesn’t even have to try to act interested and respectful. “It comes naturally” he teased. He was most grateful because he was much less stressed. With full conviction, he said, “It takes a lot less energy when your thoughts and beliefs are aligned in the right way!”


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