Did you ever get feedback that your behavior was having a negative impact on others? Perhaps you were told you’re too critical… or don’t listen enough… or are micro-managing your team… or even the other end – that you’re not involved enough?
Have you ever worked hard to change that behavior, perhaps even worked with a coach, but then got feedback that they still saw you as a frog… not the prince or princess you thought you had become?
If so, you’ve not alone. One of the most common reasons people revert to old behavior patterns is because of lack of appreciation of their efforts, lack of acknowledgement they’ve changed, and lack of support to continue acting differently.
No wonder “change doesn’t stick.”
Why people don’t notice you’ve changed.
In part the answer lies in physics. Newton’s Third Law to be exact. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The more you try to change, the more the rest of the system pushes back to keep things the same. Often your actions serve a purpose that no one is consciously aware of. For example, although your team might complain about being micro-managed, they are also spared the stress of juggling priorities and managing team deadlines.
People continue to see what they expect to see. In other words, sometimes they just don’t notice you’ve changed your behavior. We are creatures of habit and fall into patterns of perception as well as patterns of behavior. It also might be that your new behaviors are tentative or awkward. After all, if you were skillful at it, you’d probably have been doing it all along.
People don’t trust that you’ve really changed. If you’ve acted a certain way for a long time, people might not trust that you’ll continue in this new way. They think you’ll revert to your old behaviors. And quite possibly they’ll be right. Not because you don’t have good intentions, but because new behaviors need to be supported and nurtured as your skills grow.
What you can do to make your changes stick.
Before you decide it’s not worth the effort and slip back into your old patterns, here are five things you can do to get the recognition and support you need to make change stick.
- Inform: If you’re going to try a new behavior, there’s no reason to keep it a secret. Jim’s direct reports didn’t understand his intention was to stop managing so closely. He could have said, “I’m going to try a new management style. I want to delegate more and let you run with the ball without supervising so closely.”
- Engage: Ask for feedback. Enlisting people to help you invests them in supporting your change. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Say something like, “I’d like your help. You know it’s a big change for me, so I might slip up sometimes. If I do, I’d appreciate your bringing it to my attention.”
- Understand: Understand that changing your behavior will not only affect others, it will impact the entire system. There will be pressure on you to revert. Notice the pressure, but don’t react to it.
- Allow: Allow others to step into the space that you once filled. You might need to wait awhile for someone to venture into it. And they might not fulfill the role you played as well as you did, especially initially, because they will need to learn new behaviors and skills. Have patience.
- Acknowledge: Put it on the table. Talk about what is happening and changing in a non-judgmental way. Acknowledging makes it possible for everyone to participate consciously and provides support for everyone as you develop new ways of being together.
Thanks for these tips. I can honestly say that the feedback I receive comes in the form of others not noticing or they notice and ignore the change. I have not gotten honest verbal feedback. Next time I decide to make a dramatic change in the way I do things, I’m going to put these ideas to the test. There are a few things I can change when I’m back for a month-long vacation.
Glad you found these tips helpful, Jane. Vacations are a great time for reflection on what changes are needed. Even small changes can have a huge impact. My understanding is the first moon shot required over 1000 mid-course corrections.
Good post Jesse. (and an interesting one! 🙂
I love all your tips and suggestions, especially the one about feedback. As I was reading through your post, that is actually what I felt to be at the root of why people may not notice if someone else has changed.
Simply based on first hand experience at different points in my life, more times than not, I’ve dealt with some people (especially in leadership in both family and business) where they expect me and others to accept that they’ve made changes for the better, however, they AVOID having the difficult conversation about how their previous behavior impacted us in the FIRST place.
It’s like a twisted psychology game that says, I’ve CHANGED! I really have! But we aren’t EVER going to talk about my past behavior and how it impacted you. We’re going to pretend those things NEVER happened and I just expect you to BELIEVE me when I say that I’ve changed. And more often than not, their behavior in those critical areas are STILL the same. And they are STILL avoiding taking 100% responsibility for past behaviors, impact, and making amends. They AVOID having the difficult conversations yet turn around and may even teach or preach on it.
Which is the WORST thing a leader can do if they want to #1) be taken seriously #2) be respected #3) to repair, build, or maintain trust.
To fail to communicate and just expect people to ‘believe’ they’ve changed is to insult the people who have already had to tolerate bad behavior.
People haven’t changed unless their behavior has changed. If their behavior is still the same…they haven’t changed.
Otherwise, LOVE your insights and suggestions. Feedback is critical.
Thanks, Samantha, for your insightful description of the strong interplay between behavior and perception and the need for honest conversation to break through that.
Once again: the arrow hit the bull’s eye. A critical point to me is that when someone realizes that behavioral change is needed, she/he asks for help. One executive who was a terrible listener, asked his team to help him. Specifically, whenever someone felt he stopped listening, that employee merely touched her ear. The executive saw the gesture and tried again. Behavior is a habit. Research seems to conclude that it takes 21 consecutive days to BEGIN to develop a habit. Patience is needed by all.
Of course, there’s also the behavior that is NOT changed but merely shifted in tone. Like the manager who said, “OK, I now have an open door policy.” However, if an employee walked in, he was heard to say, “Well, this better not be a stupid question.”
Change? I think not.
Great examples, Eileen. Step 2 “engage,” is about asking for help, which is one of the more powerful things you can do, and asking for feedback is one of the most powerful ways to get help.
Great article, Jesse. Recognizing it’s time to make a change within yourself is admirable and requires a great deal of self-inspection, even when other’s comments are the initiator. It is incredibly frustrating when you can feel the change in yourself, and you know it’s taking place, but others either can’t or refuse to see it (I loved your use of Newton’s law to bring that concept to life).
One more important concept to remember is time. It may just take a while to rebuild trust, or create it from scratch if none existed before. Recognition of behavioral change is like turning a barge, not a speedboat.
Love your analogy, Matthew – behavioral change is “like turning a barge, not a speedboat” and it takes time for people to recognize and trust it. You offer great encouragement to hang in there and not give up, even if others don’t recognize your efforts as quickly as you might wish.
Great post Jesse, I felt a special resonance with #2 “People continue to see what they expect to see” – this was a lesson I learned in the classroom – giving my students room to change was a critical step in their success.
In leadership positions the same is true – (and to paraphrase a well known quotation) We need to visualize the change we want to see in others.
Indeed! Your comments remind me of the famous Pygmalion in the Classroom study in the 1960’s by Rosenthal and Jacobson. It’s so important to give people room to change instead of keeping them locked into what we expect of them. Perception impacts reality.
Listening to feedback and daring to change is a very personal challenge and one that all leaders accept. True leaders recognize that both positive and negative feedback has to be accepted; you cannot just take the good parts. It does not stop with good…change should still be a challenge to be even better. I can positively relate to your advice in as much that; MYCASKI is a very personal reminder to me and something that I have been enjoying for many years. It drives me to make things happen and change is something I want to do; it challenges me and although I take full accountability for my actions I do embrace others allowing them to grow with me. I believe that this sets a good example, I am learning all the time and I try to encourage others to buy into my change through experiencing it with me. I also believe that emphasizing your advice will provide ‘stickability’ and fingers crossed, an increase in the acceptance change rate. The best of Regards Raymond
I applaud your desire for continual learning and understanding that feedback is essential for that – both the positive and negative. Wishing you the best with “stickability” and increasing the acceptance change rate.
Good post, Jesse; I’ll bookmark this one. My clients learn to do all of the things you’ve mentioned, and it all works. The thing that most often happens is that the leader is working so hard to change, and then we survey stakeholders at some point only to find out the needle hasn’t moved as far as they would have liked. So habit change can be relative. Nevertheless the strategies you’ve outlined can work well in this case too.
Thanks, MJ! As you point out, it’s quite discouraging to work hard on making a change and then do another 360 and find out perception hasn’t changed as much as you thought it should. Glad to hear you think post is helpful.
I’m 28 and recently was freed from alcoholism and confusion about who I am and what I believe in, I am finally happy, and diciplined, and excited to see how things will play out, how I’m finally able to accomplish all the things I’ve wanted and needed to do, I really am happy for the first time in a long time, and consistently happy for the first time ever, the only thing I still live with my dad and His wife again, and it’s only been 8 days, I know my step mom sees the different and I’m working with my dad on some Construction jobs, and he doesn’t seem to notice the difference instead he makes it seem like I’ve always had it together, but I’m new to being free and motivated like this, I understand he thinks I might revert to my past, but what hurts is that he doesn’t seem to notice or doesn’t acknowledge it. He was a lot nicer when I was in a bad place because he probably felt sorry, but not that I’m happy and every time I’ve showed some kind of improvement it’s like he brings up all the flaws again, or where I should of been by now, and How I haven’t accomplished anything, well at least I’m able not to respond to him and try to defend myself anymore I just really wished he noticed, I am going to keep sticking it out and wait for him to say something, I just really hope it doesn’t end up in another fight again… it’s like he magically expects me to be perfect but all this has taken years of seeking to better my self, and continuing to push through, I’m not an alcoholic because I like alcohol, I was drinking because I was broken inside and lost, but now I’m found finally, and so if anyone has any suggestions please me know or any encouragement thank you guys
Congratulations for taking charge of your life and deciding to make it a better one. Now, you must create a support system for yourself to make sure the pressures that caused you to turn to alcohol don’t push you back. Since you have returned to the same situation, where there is no strong support and understanding for what you have accomplished, it will be important to find a support system outside your family. I suggest attending regular meetings at your local alcoholics anonymous or finding a similar support group at a mental health center. I applaud your courage and wish you all the best.