How to change when you don’t want to—3 tips for leaders

Have you ever found it hard to change your behavior—even when you knew it was exactly what people wanted you to do?

See if this sounds familiar. Our family is going out to dinner.  My husband is driving.  We pull into the parking lot and I see a fabulous parking place right in front. (I love to find great parking places and I think everyone else should also.)

So I start to share my expert-parking-place-finding-radar-response and guess what happens next?  He is NOT interested and says, “Don’t even think about it!”

Why the quick response?  Because he and I have been over this ground many times before and I know I am not to speak during parking lot time unless we are going to die.  But changing behavior is an ongoing challenge and just because we know what people want us to do, that doesn’t make it any easier.

3 ways to help yourself change

Still, my experience working with many different leaders over the years has convinced me that we can change anything we want if we put our mind to it. Here are three tips if you are committed to changing some hard-wired behaviors. 

  1. Focus on the other person’s wishes—be clear not only on what the other person wants, but why he or she wants this.  In my example above, after realizing this situation had come up numerous times before, I decided to find out why my significant other wasn’t interested in my brilliance. He said it distracts his driving when he has to look where I want him to look.  (Well that was informative.  And to be honest, I actually would rather be safe than have the closest parking place also.)
  2. Practice what you want to replace your usual behavior with by rehearsing what you are going to do in a similar situation the next time. For me, rehearsal meant chanting, “Never miss an opportunity to exercise,” as I practiced parking as far away as possible while my hard-wired brain kept pointing out, “There’s one, there’s another one, and oh look, still another one.”  (I also kept reminding myself of why my husband doesn’t share my passion for prime parking spots—his value of family safety is more important than that front row space.)
  3. Recognize when you do it right by celebrating when all goes well.  Embed your new skill into your brain by creating a pattern for your new behavior so next time it won’t take as much energy. Even though your new behavior may leave you feeling somewhat dissatisfied—or underutilized in my case—take your attention off of yourself and celebrate how you made the other person feel.  Mentally go over what you did, why you did it, and what the fabulous results were.  (This actually creates a stronger neural connection to the behavior that makes it easier to access next time.)

It takes practice and time

Figuring out what others want and acting on that knowledge is a rare, but powerful, way to build lasting relationships—at work and at home. It takes focus, practice, and a recognition of results.  Everyone likes to be treated in the way they like to be treated.  Our challenge as leaders is to flex what we want to do to meet the needs of others.

About the author:

Vicki Halsey is one of the principal authors—together with Kathy Cuff—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program.  Their other-focused posts appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.

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