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Posts on Jan 1970

Acting Your Way into a New Way of Thinking

Julius-Caesar-The-GlobeAre you struggling to change an individual, your team or your organisation to adopt a new way of doing things? The problem may be that you are trying to change their attitude, rather than focusing on their behaviour.

Some years ago I spent time in Afghanistan, working to influence the Afghan population to support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). We did this through a wide variety of communication means, from face-to-face engagement to billboards and the radio, and at local, regional and national levels. A particular issue was how to stop young boys in one locality from throwing stones at soldiers on patrol. This may seem rather trivial, but the danger is that it is difficult tell if the missile is just a stone or something more deadly, and soldiers then have to make split second decisions about whether to fire or not, with potentially traumatic consequences. Our first reaction was that we had to change the children’s attitude toward ISAF, so they would stop throwing stones. The solution, however, was far simpler and focused instead on their behaviour and what actually motivated it.

Our change of approach rested on a growing realisation that ultimately, successful change manifests itself in behavioural terms. How could we possibly know if change had been successful unless we were observing specific behaviours or the absence them. Furthermore, taking a behavioural approach to change led the way to identifying which behaviours were most indicative of support for ISAF and what we could do to encourage them.

An additional problem with focusing on attitudes is that there is a great deal of dispute among psychologists as to what ‘attitudes’ are. They are not values or beliefs, and not really opinions, although they often used interchangeably with attitudes. In practical terms, this means that attitudes are very difficult, if not impossible, to measure accurately, as they are influenced by so many compounding variables. However, the single biggest problem with the attitudinal approach is that it erroneously presumes that by changing attitudes, behaviours will follow. The unequivocal consensus of social science research over the last 70 years is that attitudes are very poor predictors of behaviour.

Take for example car seat belts. For many years the Government tried to persuade people of the benefits of wearing seatbelts in cars. They largely failed, despite all the evidence to support the behaviour, and it took enforcement to make the wearing of seatbelts an accepted and unconscious activity. Smoking is the same. For decades the Government tried to persuade the British public that they should not smoke. They did so by using grisly pictures of diseased lungs and warnings that smoking would curtail your life. Yet people continued to smoke and in some groups, notably young teenage women, it became more not less acceptable. However, one of the largest ever drops in smoking came about when the Government legislated against it, banning smoking in public places.

This further suggests that while attitude is a poor precursor to behaviour, behaviour is a very strong precursor to attitude. In other words, if you change behaviour, there is a good chance that with time their attitude will follow suit. So, where do you start?

In the first place, identify the behaviour(s) you require. What are the few critical changes that really matter, the specific behaviours that will support the change and deliver results? Think about both the desired behaviours, those that will help you achieve your end-state or new condition, and the non-desired behaviours, those that work against you achieving your end-state.

Second, identify the individual/group whose behaviour you want to change and determine why their current behaviours exist and where their reluctance to change might stem from? Is it personal attitude, their perception of the value of the new behaviour, i.e. will it work? Do they fear losing something as a result of the change: expertise, an established team or social group, or perhaps status? Or does it stem from social norms, their perception of what others are doing i.e. are other people doing it? Or is it an issue of self-efficacy, do they think they can do the new behaviour and is it worth it?

Finally, consider how can these behaviours be changed and what actions will best achieve that effect? The key here is ‘show don’t tell’. Just as you can’t argue someone out of a deeply held belief, you can’t force people to change the way they think and feel. Experiencing the behaviour being effective in action is a far better teacher than logical argument. Take for example the tube strikes of February 2014, which caused 75% of commuters to change their routes, but once the strike stopped 5% continued to use the new routes (a change in behaviour that was tracked through oyster card use). It seems that prior to the strike some Londoners had unwittingly taken suboptimal routes to work and continued to use them through habit. Using the new routes convinced them to change their habits.

In an organisational context, try reinforcing the new behaviours formally and informally:
• Set up practices and processes that make it easy for people to do the right thing.
• Model the new behaviour yourself, on the basis that the best that you can expect is the least that you exhibit.
• Seek out cultural carriers and other role models (often known as change agents in the terminology).
• Develop metrics and incentives that lead people to practice the new behaviours and then reward them.
• Catch them doing the right thing and praise them.
• Measure the behaviour change and the positive results it produces.
• Ask for feedback and don’t be afraid to test and adjust the behaviours if they will still meet your end-state. People appreciate being consulted and at the very least listened to.

So what happened in Afghanistan? Well it turned out that throwing stones at soldiers had nothing to do with hating ISAF or radicalisation. They were kids and they were bored. Throwing stones at soldiers was an amusing pastime. The solution was to give them something else to do, so they were given footballs. No more stone throwing and sometimes the soldiers were able to have a kick about with them, which may even have done something for their attitude toward foreign soldiers.

In essence, it is about acting your way into a new way of thinking, rather than thinking your way into a new way of acting.

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Dealing with Conflict: Embracing ‘And/Both’ instead of ‘Either/Or’

integration_0_1The EU referendum offered voters a simple binary decision, ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’, an either/or answer to a hugely complex question. Neither was going to solve the problems we face in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, and either way a significant portion of the population were going to be dissatisfied with the answer. What was lacking was a shared exploration of how we get the best out of our relationship with Europe, which includes aspects of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’, and a clear understanding of the broader needs of the British electorate in all its many guises. In the absence of shared conversation and genuine dialogue the best story won, just.

Business leaders face similar challenges, when either/or masks more complicated and/both solutions, and when factional interests get in the way of shared needs. Should they improve existing products, services and methods incrementally or invent radically new products based on new business models. Should they maximise profits for shareholders or generate wider benefits for investors, employees, customers and communities. Should they pursue the company’s social mission or focus on the bottom line.

Ideally, they should do both, but typically the answer is to choose one option over the other (or at least prioritise one over the other), or to seek the middle ground and find an acceptable compromise. Yet there is an alternative. That is for leaders and managers to shift from an ‘either/or’ to a ‘both/and’ mind-set, by recognising and nurturing the aims of competing constituencies and strategies while finding ways to unite them.

Mary Parker Follett, social worker, management consultant, and pioneer of organizational theory and behaviour, suggested three ways to respond to conflict: Dominance, Compromise and Integration. Dominance means victory of one side over the other, which may work in the short term but can be counterproductive in the long run, with one side remaining disgruntled. Compromise means each party having to give up something for the sake of agreement and a reduction in friction, but again this is far from ideal as it can leave all parties dissatisfied, each having given up something of value. Finally, integration, the option advocated by Follett, means creatively incorporating the parties’ fundamental needs and interests into the solution. As she observed:

“…when two desires are integrated, that means that a solution has been found in which both desires have found a place, that neither side has had to sacrifice anything.”

She recognised that integrative bargaining is not always a viable option and there are a lot of obstacles in the way of cooperative negotiation: on the one hand, a natural distaste for conflict, and on the other, a zero-sum mentality. Those caveats aside, however, the method to integrative bargaining is based upon bringing real differences out into the open. Taking the example of psychology, Follett wrote:

“The psychiatrist tells his patient that he cannot help him unless he is honest in wanting his conflict to end. The “uncovering” which every book on psychology has rubbed into us from some years now as a process of the utmost importance for solving the conflicts, which the individual has within himself, is equally important for the relations between groups, classes, races, and nations. In business, the employer, in dealing either with his associates or his employees, has to get underneath all the camouflage, has to find the real demand as against the demand put forward, distinguish declared motive from real motive, alleged cause from real cause, and to remember that sometimes the underlying motive is deliberately concealed and that sometimes it exists unconsciously. The first rule, then, for obtaining integration is to put your cards on the table, face the real issue, uncover the conflict, bring the whole thing into the open….”

This type of “uncovering”, explained Follett, often leads to a “revaluation” of one’s desires and interests. In other words, uncovering leads people to move from position to interest-based thinking and negotiation.

The first step is to illuminate and differentiate between people’s needs, interests and strategies. We all have the same basic needs (think of Maslow’s hierarchy for instance), but we have differing interests arising from those needs, and choose different strategies to meet those interests and needs. Conflicts arise when the strategies we choose to achieve our interests and needs stand in opposition to the strategies of others. We end up fighting over strategies and positions instead of looking more broadly for effective ways to meet our needs. For example, a need for safety and a desire (interest) to live in a safe neighbourhood can lead to two contradictory, ‘either/or’ strategies: gun ownership should be unrestricted or gun ownership should be restricted.

There are a variety of ways to meet needs and interests, but a focus on the strategy narrows the range of solutions. It is easier to consider alternative strategies when needs and interests have been heard and named. In seeking solutions to a seemingly either/or issue, start by helping the people who are in conflict to get a full a full picture of what is important to each of them. This is the beginning of dialogue, formed by the two words ‘dia’ and ‘logos’, which can be literally interpreted as the two way exchange of meaning. It is the foundation of truly meaningful conversations that get beyond either/or and explore the possibilities for and/both.

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