4 Ways to Change Someone's Behavior & What to Avoid

If you’re in a leadership position, you’ll eventually have to talk to someone on your team about behavior change. For instance, it’s not uncommon for an organization to have an employee who respects those in leadership positions, but is disrespectful towards those they perceive to be beneath them. An employee who continues this behavior will gain a negative reputation and create a toxic work environment. You need to inspire this person to change their behavior, but how?

Read the tips below from the Fundamentals of Physician Leadership: Influence course for advice on how to hold this conversation. Gain even more insights by looking at the entire Fundamentals of Physician Leadership: Series which includes courses on communication, negotiation, finance, and quality.

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1. Get to the Core Values

Just as you are inspired and driven by your core values, you need to find out what’s important to the other person in order to build a connection and give effective feedback.

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2. Establish Context

Preface a discussion with the appropriate context, but always put a positive spin on it by letting them know they hold the power to change things.

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3. Pierce the Armor

Suggest behavior change that is specific and narrow enough to be effective – like a spear breaking their armor. Too much criticism and information can overwhelm them and cause resistance.

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4. Empty the Cup

After talking with this person, they’ll likely be full of new information to think about. If you add too much more information, it’s like pouring water into a full cup, the person won’t process anything new. So, just politely ask what they think until they acknowledge the points you’re making.

Mistakes People Commonly Make When Delivering Feedback

When following the above four techniques, changing another person’s behavior is entirely possible. However, there are two major pitfalls that leaders need to avoid: diminishing the problem or unloading on them. Minimizing the problem in order to a protect a person’s feelings or because you feel uncomfortable won’t have the emotional impact needed to inspire change. On the opposite end, getting too worked up and critical will make you seem like a bully. These two common mistakes are a reminder to be firm but compassionate when trying to inspire changed behavior.  


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1. Don't Diminish the Problem

This can happen during the “pierce the armor” step. You have to make enough of an impact on the person that the metaphorical spear moves through the armor and nicks the skin. Diminishing the gravity of the problem or making excuses for the person won’t affect them – the spear will merely bounce off the armor.

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2. Don't Unload on Them

This problem can also happen during the “pierce the armor” step. Once you make the person aware of the behavior that needs to change, stop. Don’t overload them with criticism, what others think of them, or how their whole future will be ruined unless they change. Unloading on someone will cause them to become defensive and resist change.

Excerpts from our self-study online series Fundamentals of Physician Leadership

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