Wouldn’t the world be great if everyone did just what you wanted them to?
If your kids behaved just right?
If your direct reports were directly on target with all their work?
If your boss was awesome?
Alas, time to wake up.
How do we get other people to change?
In an intriguing article in the NY Times, writer Bruce Feiler explores the concept of behavior modification of children—without resorting to bribery. How do you get the kids to eat all of their vegetables without offering ten bucks, or extra time playing on their iPad?
Feiler polled a team of experts. One of the experts he turned to was Edward Deci, a psychologist who’s spent his career researching and developing the field of human motivation. Deci recommends three simple steps:
1. Explain Why. Don’t just demand. Give the big picture context. Why is this important? (Now the reason we need to keep the sand in the sandbox is so that there’ll be sand there next time you or someone else wants to play in it. Besides, the sand will kill the grass as well, and that would hurt the grass.)
2. See things from their perspective; be patient and take their point of view. (I can imagine that you’d want to fling the sand all over the place. That could seem like a lot of fun to do. Yes, I could see how you’d really enjoy that.)
3. Use of a language of support and invitation, rather than control. Avoid words like “should” and “must”. Controlling behavior will create one of two responses: compliance or defiance. Compliance will only get you so far. When you take away the reward, the behavior will go away as well. With defiance, you get the rebel who acts things out.
This 3-step approach will work with kids. It’ll also work with grown ups. It looks simple enough on paper, but it takes a real shift of perspective; of looking at the other as a subject to be respected and cared for, rather than an object to be controlled and moved.
Where might you try this technique out to help change someone? They might change, but the real person you’ll be changing is yourself.