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FEATURE Communication Isn’t Always Enough Switch to behavioral approach By Jerry Jellison Communicate, communicate, and communicate. We’re told communication is the key to solving every interpersonal problem. Communication can be extremely effective with many interpersonal issues, but there’s one circumstance in which communicating is virtually useless -.when you’re dealing with someone who’s resistant to change. Before dissecting this topic, let’s define the key terms. Communication is the generic word for what researchers call informational social influence – verbal or written messages between people. Its most common forms are education and persuasion. Also, let’s admit that we can all be resistant to change. If you have any doubts about this assertion, ask anyone who’s tried to get you to change (e.g. your direct reports, life partner, or your children). Resistance isn’t an ‘us versus them’ situation; it’s just that sometimes we’re the influencer and sometimes we’re the resister. When dealing with a person who is resisting change, you can communicate all you want, but you’re very unlikely to produce a major change. Have you ever tried convincing an addict to get clean? Or, have you been successful telling someone, who’s madly in love, that they’re being exploited by their partner? The resister would like nothing better than to continue communicating. Dialogue is in their self-interest. As long as you continue talking, the person doesn’t have to change. Communication is ineffective because the source of resistance is largely emotional, not cognitive. A resister’s most common emotions are associated with fear of loss (e.g. loss of job, authority, habitual work patterns, etc.) and self-doubts about their capacity to successfully make a change. Try to personalize this observation by imaging that someone is trying to persuade you to accept a job in a very undesirable location. As a committed west coast urbanite, could anyone convince you to permanently relocate fifteen hundred miles away from your family to an isolated rural town with eight months of winter? Most people can’t imagine making such a move. Although resistance is driven by emotions, resisters don’t think they’re being emotional. They always have ‘good rational’ reasons for resisting change. To circumvent their negative emotions, you must be prepared to change your influence strategy. Instead of getting caught in the trap of unending communication, switch to a behavioral approach that circumvents resistance by directly minimizing negative emotions. The key is to get the resister to start taking small progressive steps in a new direction despite any objection and fear. If you can get the person to try the new way two or three times, they’ll make several important discoveries; the change isn’t as frightening as they thought it would be, they’re better at it than they imagined, and they’ll experience some tangible benefits of the change. The ‘free sample’ is an influence technique that has been used for millennia and it’s based on the same behavior change concept. The thought of tofu sausage may sound disgusting. But, when you haven’t eaten since breakfast, you may be tempted by anything the smiling hostess with an electric skillet is offering on a toothpick. As you take a tentative bite, you begin to enjoy the texture and the blend of garlic and basil. In much the same way, realtors and car sales people invariably try to tempt you beyond your stated price range. They want you to take a peek at the ultra-modern kitchen or to take the red convertible for a spin about the block. If they can nudge you to actually experience the extra level of luxury, they hope you’ll rationalize spending more money. The behavioral strategy is called activation and it includes a set of specific techniques that managers can use to implement change at work. These tools are designed to get people to take the first tentative steps. Personally experiencing the benefits of the new way is far more persuasive and convincing than talking, talking, and talking. SSE Dr. Jerry Jellison has been teaching his practical techniques for implementing change to business professionals throughout the world for the past 30 years. Formerly a professor of social psychology at the University of Southern California, Jerry has received multiple teaching excellence awards. As president and now chairman of the board, of the USC Credit Union, Dr. Jellison has helped create a 100-fold increase in assets from $2 million to over $300 million. Visit www.jerryjellison.com sales and service excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 10.2014 Submit your Articles 19


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