Take the long shortcut to influence

by | Mar 31, 2014 | Blog | 0 comments

windy road_1The words “dignity and respect” on a slide isn’t sufficient to teach ethics.

That’s what General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told students at the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy last week as he stressed the importance of ethics.

Furthermore, the General said he’s considering banning online training in ethics, as reported by the Wall Street Journal in the article General: Approach on Ethics Inadequate.

Military leaders aren’t the only ones who often gravitate toward speed and ease when focusing on messages to influence and change behavior. Other leaders—and those who work for them—can fall in the same trap.

We want to think that we can achieve our goals by creating formal messages and training and then delivering them.

We and our colleagues can spend hours (Weeks? Months?) crafting the punchy poster, the colorful PowerPoint jam-packed with photos or clip art, and the perfect email message to go with the custom or off-the-shelf training.

We then push out the stuff, offer the training, check off the to-do list and prepare to proclaim “We’re done!”

Yet, this “check-the-box” behavior doesn’t help anyone change behavior.

Language—written and oral—can influence others’ thoughts; however, it doesn’t drive their behavior.

BJ Fogg, the founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, says that one of the top 10 mistakes in behavior change  is believing that information leads to action. (This applies to conventional training too.)

We humans are just not that rational. Plus, we’d rather preserve our energy to do things that ensure our survival or interest us. (This is a diplomatic way of saying we’re lazy.)

What’s the alternative when you want to help others change their behavior?

Get social. Provide easy-to-use, meaningful triggers that get their attention. And smooth the path to make it easy for them to start to take small steps.  In other words, make sure they have an easy-to-walk path in front of them rather than a mountain they must climb.

(For more on this topic, check out the blog post Try walking before talking.  Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of BJ Fogg’s certified Tiny Habits™ coach.)

This approach takes time, elbow grease and patience as you’re working  with other human beings. You can’t always predict how long it will take to get results; however, you can be assured of better results than just shoveling stuff out.

Think of this approach as a long shortcut. As my maternal grandfather taught me, when you’re figuring out how to travel from point A to B, consider more than the miles between points. Be open to alternate ways. The longer route can often get you there faster, depending on traffic congestion, quality of the roads and other factors.

When you’re working with others and trying to influence them to think and act differently, you’ve got to get them involved.

As General Dempsey told Naval and Army Academy students, “The issue of ethics is personal and to be persuasive, it has to be relationship. It can’t be an issue of abstract values; you have to bring them to life.”

What long shortcuts are you taking these days to influence others?


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