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Crucial Influence

Changing Behavior After Training

Dear Crucial Skills,

We’ve been through Crucial Conversations Training, have returned back to work, and aren’t changing all that much. Everyone liked the ideas and wanted to do something new, but we haven’t been very good at transferring what we learned in training to how we behave at work. What can we do to kick-start our interest and actually change how we behave at work?


Dear Stumped,

The problem you suggest is common to everyone who has ever had a new aspiration. You finish a training program, set down a book, or walk away from a lecture or sermon—fired up with good intentions to embrace what you just learned. But then you get back to work and are faced with eighty new e-mails waiting for you, a boss who is on your case about a project you let slide, and your coworkers who want you to join a new action team. You’ll have to implement what you learned at training sometime early next week, once you get caught up.

As the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months, you envision the decay curve from your introductory psychology class associated with embracing new concepts. It’s not one of those slightly sloping lines you might see when tracking, say, weight loss. No, the nasty decay curve that plots changes in behavior against time is really more like a decay cliff. With each day that passes without making some kind of change, the likelihood of doing anything new drops precipitously. As the days pass, good intentions transform into apathy, apathy into old habits, and old habits into guilt.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can implement new techniques that support the changes you’d like to make. Here are six tools (following the model we use in Influencer) for transforming good intentions into behavioral changes.

1. Value Links. There are probably at least two reasons you wanted to embrace what you learned in training. First, you believe implementing the skills will make your life better. You also want to be the kind of person who speaks honestly and effectively. You want to work in a company where people replace back-biting with honest dialogue. These are some of the values that go with learning and implementing the skills. Keep these values in mind. Talk with your colleagues not just about the training content, but also the underlying values. As you link behavior changes to the qualities you care about, you increase the likelihood that you’ll actually implement what you learned.

2. Advanced Learning. Most training sessions are intended to start you on a path of learning. Crucial Conversations Training is no different. At the end of the formal training, kick-start your informal and extended learning. Assign your work group to study one of the chapters from the book. Meet and review what you studied. Discuss how it applies to you and your work group. Continue through the end of the book. In addition, ask your HR manager or trainer to conduct a follow-up training session where you review Crucial Conversations concepts, discuss applications, hone skills, and otherwise continue to advance your learning.

3. Contract with the Boss. As the training comes to an end, meet with your boss and lay out a plan for implementing what you learned. Make it clear that you want to bring the skills back to work where they can do some good. Review the skills you think will help you the most, discuss them candidly with your boss, and then tie them into your formal performance review. You might as well get credit for making personal changes and adding to your skill repertoire.

4. Maintenance Crews. Find one or two other people who have been through the training and form a “maintenance crew.” Meet monthly and work to maintain and improve the concepts and skills you learned during the training. Discuss common problems, jointly settle on how you can use the skills, and then practice the conversations. Take turns practicing each skill with real problems you face and don’t forget to give each other candid feedback and specific coaching. By practicing in a safe setting and receiving honest feedback and advice, you can improve your skills in a risk-free environment while preparing to deal with real problems at work.

5. Rewards. Ask your boss or HR manager if it would be okay to reward people who practice the new skills they’ve learned. Make the reward simple and then ask people to report their attempts at holding crucial conversations. People shouldn’t share the names of others involved in the crucial conversation (respecting privacy), but should write a short report of the skill they tried, what happened, and if necessary, what they might do different next time. Then, based on hitting a certain target number of attempted crucial conversations, celebrate efforts with small rewards.

6. Agenda and Reminders. If you care about something, you talk about it, and if you want to hard wire the conversation about high-stakes conversations, add it to your agenda. In each team meeting, openly share what you’re doing, what’s working, what isn’t, and any corrections you are making. Post the Crucial Conversations model on your office wall. Also place a copy in your meeting rooms. Use the model as a reminder of what to do and how to do it. Use the model when discussing your experience as a team.

Use any of these suggested follow-up tactics in combination, and the chances you’ll continue to practice and master the skills increase. Use four or more methods, and the likelihood you’ll transfer the skills from the training room to your work increases tenfold.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Influence

7 thoughts on “Changing Behavior After Training”

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  2. Bill

    I am not an expert, having only read the book, but I would say as with everything the change starts with you. You can’t wait for others to change, rather try be the change you want to see. Often now while in discussion I try remind myself to think about whats going on around me and how others are behaving so that I may modulate my behaviour.

    This does not mean I get it right everytime, but at least I can see change in my behavour, and for the first time I am listen with my eyes and ears! My journey has begun.

  3. Keith Miles

    Kerry makes some excellent points. Here’s a complementary angle on Stumped’s typical situation. Training is often seen by management as something that can be ‘bolted on’ – it is rarely impactful in this mode. Kerry’s suggestions (about linking the behavior to corporate values and performance assessments) indicate that powerful tools like Crucial Conversations training should be part of an integrated strategy to move the organization forward. The training should be shown as linking not only to the values but also to the operating strategy for the next year or two – how it will help us all now. The accountability must be broad enough and personal enough to affect a large group of individuals – otherwise the naysayers hold back and sabotage the effort (something the Vital Smarts folk talk about). But the real reason for making the desired behavior (e.g. Crucial Conversations-style communication) a formal part of the accountability framework is the new reality of the workplace. Post-lean organizations have little or no extra staff and those that remain are doing multiple roles often under the pressure of numerical targets. This has pushed nice-to-have behaviors out of the way and left only those behaviors for which individuals are directly accountable for or those with a visible connection to accountable outcomes. Executives we work with say that even though our suggestions make sense, only those they are accountable for get their attention and get done. Organizations need to frame the training-related behaviors in light of this year’s objectives and make people personally accountable to get individuals’ attention. Before management could hold people accountable for some things and ask for other behaviors as well. Increasingly everything important needs to be in the formal accountability set to get traction.

  4. Richard Rasmussen

    This column answered the concern very well, including the introductory analysis of how people wind up with the concern. If these teachings aren’t a standard part of training, I think they should be!

  5. Cheryl

    After we completed the class, I used a combination of Kerry’s “Advanced Learning” and “Mainenance Crews” techniques. Immediately after the class I organized a book study and invited those who had recently completed the class as well as those who had completed it in prior years as a refresher.

    Since then, I have a weekly “coffee break” with a classmate where we ask each other about crucial conversations we had, upcoming conversations, and most importantly, crucial conversations we should have had. Reviewing our week and asking ourselves if we “missed” identifying a crucial conversation has proven to be the most valuable.

  6. Joe Hastings

    I have also found a great resource from listening to the Audio CD’s (provided with the class) while driving.

    I tend to listen to the CD’s where Kerry speaks the most.

  7. Drew Hawkins

    I would say that contracting with the boss and rewarding are the two big players in the advice above. The importance of laying out a game-plan in the initial stages of implementing the new ideas is crucial. Otherwise nothing will get done. Also, rewarding people will help improve those behavior modifications. The trick is to align those rewards with the goals of the new plans.

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