Knowing is 1/5 the Battle

As I mentioned last week, I decided to do a series of blog posts on Change.


Nope, not that kind of change.

I’m talking about behavioral change. I am using Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model as the backbone for these posts. Today’s post focuses on the first stage: Precontemplation.

Precontemplation is the lack of awareness that change needs to be made. In order to create change we need both awareness of our behavior and the desire for something to be different. How does this happen?

1) Awareness

Anyone who has been in a relationship with someone has found out that there are things they do that they didn’t realize, or that they didn’t realize were annoying (or damaging) to others. We learn about these behaviors when someone calls us on it. In our personal lives, this could be an argument or a scathing text. In a work setting this may come in the form of a closed door meeting with a colleague, a formal employee performance review, or an email.

Another way we can become aware of our areas for change is by comparing ourselves to others. A person looks at their officemate and realizes that they always seem to get their projects done on time, instead of always down the the wire, and sometimes late. Another person looks at a co-worker and notices that they seem to get along better with the entire team.

2) Desire

A person may become aware of a behavior and not leave Precontemplation. To move to Contemplation, you must have some sense that something could be better if you changed something. For instance, if you aren’t someone who needs to have personal relationships with people at work, you may not care that your colleagues don’t talk to you much. So, you may not want to act differently towards them. However, there are some professions and workplaces where this could significantly impact your effectiveness in your role, or your ability to advance in the organization.


Helping someone move past Precontemplation:   

Too often we assume that others realize they are being annoying, disrespectful, or are significantly impacting the productivity of the team. My suggestion is to never assume.

One of the best workplace tools for addressing lack of awareness and/or desire to change problematic behavior is regular employee (or team) performance reviews. This tool can help leaders (and teammates) address a wide range of behaviors including problems with productivity and team disruptions. Paradoxically, they are especially helpful for people who are extremely uncomfortable with confrontation. If a formal system is set up and all employees are subject to it, then you reduce the risk that someone will feel singled out and attacked as you bring up problems. To further decrease defensiveness a) connect the employee's workplace behaviors directly to their effectiveness in their role, and b) approach it from a Professional Development angle. A growth framework will be better received than a punitive framework. (That being said, there may be times when punitive responses are required.)

*One caveat: Formal feedback should be limited to behaviors that truly impact the effectiveness of the workplace, including the effectiveness of others. If you can’t link an employee behavior to workplace processes, that is a hint that its a case of annoyance due to personal style differences. These are natural and inevitable, and are not appropriate for something that goes into an HR file.

It’s also a topic for another blog post.