The art of changing behavior

One of my fellow coaches told me about this guy who was doing fairly well in his life, but still felt that he could not accomplish anything. The reason behind his made-up belief was that one of his parents once told him he would never achieve anything in life when he got bad grades, labeling the son a failure.

This made me thinking, what goes on in a person’s mind when he is labeled by other as under-performer or failure. Mocking a person like this is straight attack on a person’s identity. Every person has a perception of “Who am I?” which is their self-identity. Attack on self-identity is treated as threat, which triggers the fight or flight response from that person, depending on the level of self-confidence.

If the person has high confidence, he jumps into defensive argument and hold on to his behaviors that is criticized. For instance, a boss telling his employee that he is not good enough and the employee firing back. However, a person with low confidence level develops self-doubts and starts questioning his values and capabilities. Just like what happened in the incidence stated above.

In either case the objective of having the person change or improve his behavior remains unfulfilled.  

When a person’s perception about his identity gets changed, they start redefining their values according to the enforced identity, develop a skill set to support those values, adopt behaviors to express that skill set and find or create an environment to be able to express those behaviors. If the new perceived identity is negative, its catastrophic affects reaches the environment.

On the other hand, if we criticize only the specific behavior of a person and not the person themself, it will ensure that their identity and self-esteem remain unhurt. People are more likely to correct their behavior, if they feel appreciated as a person, and made to realize that the amendment in behavior will align better with their identity.

Whenever you have an intent of changing or improving someone’s behavior, just remember that there is a thin line between constructively criticizing an action and demeaning a person. We need to make sure that we do not cross that line.

When you criticize me, I intuitively dig in to defend myself, however when you accept me like I am, I suddenly am willing to change. -Carl Rogers

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