Many managers have difficulty coaching employees about changing behaviour. They find themselves in a tug-a-war between knowing what to do but not knowing how to do it. I often find that the Executive Team expects managers to engage employees in resolving behavioural issues, but managers don't have the appropriate skills to do the job. Somehow, through some magical thinking, they are just supposed to know. If you are in this situation here is an acronym that may help you: REPAIR.
Use REPAIR to remember a process for changing behaviour, your own included. Remember though individuals must have a positive intention to change before any can occur. Without that, there is not much anyone can do. In fact, no one can change another individual's behaviour. Only h/she can do it. The individual must feel a tension for change and conclude that change is necessary. When this happens tension for change turns into an intention to change. When tension turns to intention we can give individuals a process to help them along their journey. This is when you can use REPAIR.
REPAIR stands for Recognize, Examine, Prepare, Act, Ingrain and Reward.
Recognize: The first step to changing behaviour is to help the individual recognize that his or her behavior is causing difficulty in the workplace. Sometimes individuals are not aware their behaviour is off-setting to others. Take John for instance, he blissfully acts like an insensitive bull in a china shop but doesn't recognise the damage he is causing to his own reputation or the "hurtful impact" he has on others. Or take Susan, she doesn't realize that her "nit picking" perfectionist behaviour or her "Put downs" are frustrating her colleagues. John and Susan's manager-coach should bring these behaviours to their attention in a way that doesn't undermine their confidence or self-esteem.
There are situations, however, when employees know their behaviour is not acceptable , but do nothing to change it. In these situations, the manager-coach must be firm but respectful in dealing with the situation. If the negative behaviour persists then the manager-coach may choose to move to disciplinary action = a step reserved for the more serious behavioural issues, and one not taken lightly.
Examine: Once the employee becomes aware of the problem the manger-coach may now ask the individual to examine the cause behind the behaviour. This is getting to "why" s/he acts the way s/he does. For this step the manger-coach could suggest that the individual complete a cause and effect examination with specific emphasis on the negative aspects of the behaviour. Once this is completed, have the individual think about more positive ways of behaving and how those new behaviours would affect his feelings and the relationship he has with others.
Sometimes there is a deep-seated reason for the inappropriate behaviour. Take anger for instance. Anger may have roots that reach back to childhood. It isn't the manager-coach's role to become the employee's psychologist, but to help the individual recognize that anger is getting in the way. If the individual requires professional help, the manager-coach should recommend that the employee seek counselling form an independent source.
Prepare: Help the individual identify strategies for improvement. The manager-coach could: suggest the employee talk to someone s/he trusts to garner ideas about how to overcome the inappropriate behaviour; recommend s/he read articles or books about how to change behaviour; suggest s/he take time out to think about new ways of behaving and the benefits they may have for him and for those around him; or, ask her to visualize how a new way of acting would make her feel and how others would react. The point of this step is to have the individual identify specific strategies for changing behaviour.
Act: Once specific strategies are identified it is time to act. Recommend that the individual take one of the strategies and implement it. Susan, mentioned above, could develop more patience before responding or pointing out the faults of others. Specifically, she could stop and assess the impact of her "nit-picking" before she responds or makes comments. By taking a bit of time out, she may begin to understand how her present way of relating to others isn't the best way to deal with the situation. Re-focusing her thinking away from the "small stuff" to the "more important stuff," or putting the "small stuff" in the context of the "bigger picture," will help her change the way she communicates with others. The simple act of holding off on her comments for a brief period of time may assist her in finding better ways of expressing herself. An action for John, to help him overcome his insensitive behaviour towards others, may be a course in "Influencing" or "Sensitivity Training."
Ingrain: Acting once isn't always sufficient to change behaviour but taking action consistently will. Individuals need to consistently reinforce an action so that the new behaviour becomes a new habit. Sometime during this process, we fall back to old habits. Not to worry, we just pick up where we left off and try again, and again, and again.
Consistent action requires repetition through self-discipline. This is a great time for the manager-coach to encourage and support the individual. The manager-coach could suggest the individual share his desire for change with a trusting colleague or friend and seek their support. He could also suggest the individual repeat positive self-affirmations as a way to take charge of her own change process.
Changing behaviours is not necessarily easy and takes time. The key is to consistently practice the new behaviour until it becomes second nature.
Reward: During the change process, the manager-coach looks for ways to reinforce the positive steps the individual is making towards taking on new behaviours. A short comment like, "I have noticed the positive change you are making (or have made)" goes a long way in building confidence and showing appreciation for the "work" the individual has done to make the change. The manager-coach could also suggest that the individual find ways to reward herself along the journey, particularly when she feels a noticeable positive change in her own behaviour. When an individual works on changing behaviour and it is also noticed by others and provides an opportunity for the whole team to celebrate. However, watch how you do this as a team celebration shouldn't end up embarrassing the individual
TIP: Try REPAIR to change some of your own behaviour before suggesting it to someone else. When using REPAIR with others, listening and engaging them in the process are keys to positive outcomes. Listening is for understanding and engaging is for helping others find their own solutions.
Let me know how the process works for You
Richard Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
Note: he, she, him, her s/he, h/she are used interchangeably throughout this article as the behaviour in question could be expressed by any gender.