Any conversation about changing behaviors requires leaders to define the problem, tie it to the business and make the change part of an intention instead of punishment, writes Marlene Chism. “Most leaders fail to do the necessary preparation before the conversation, which leads to unnecessary conflict and wasted time,” Chism writes.
One of the most difficult conversations for a leader is talking about behavior change. Whether the behavior in question is dysfunctional, disruptive or divisive, what makes the conversation difficult depends on the context.
Here are some examples:
- You allowed the behavior to continue for too long
- You inherited the problem
- The disruptive person is a high performer otherwise
- You don’t know how to start the conversation
- You tried to initiate a conversation and you failed
- Your senior leaders won’t back your decision should you need to set a boundary
To successfully initiate conversations about behavior you must stop shooting from the hip. The difference between a successful conversation and a disaster is the preparation.
Here are some critical preparation steps to ensure a productive conversation about behavioral change.
Step No. 1: Define the problem behavior
The first step is to define the behavior that needs to change. Don’t start a conversation here. (Step No. 1 is only prep work.) The reason for the prep work is that if you start with the problem or start speaking without a plan, you’ll quickly get off course and create a bigger problem later.
What not to do: Don’t define the problem emotionally or judgmentally. When you say, “they don’t care” or “they are lazy,” it indicates you don’t clearly understand how to articulate the non-judgmental observable behavior. What to do: Define only the observed behavior, working from facts instead of feelings. The question to ask yourself is, “What is happening that should not be happening?”