Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Influence

How to Change a Friend’s Behavior

Dear Steve,

How do I convince a colleague that her preconceived assumptions are producing the negative responses she expects? When we travel together, she assumes people in the travel and service industries are incompetent and unmotivated. She believes that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and that airlines, taxi companies, restaurants, etc., are more interested in taking her money than providing a quality service. As a result, people in these service roles spend more time defending themselves than helping my colleague find a quick solution to her perceived “problem.”

I have tried to demonstrate that a more amiable and collaborative approach will elicit a much more satisfactory response, however she doesn’t seem to “get it.” Travel is becoming more difficult and I no longer wish to be associated with her. Is there anything you suggest I do to prove to my colleague that changing her beliefs about others will bring about more positive responses from them?

Best Regards,
Travels with Negativity

Dear Travels,

Thank you for asking an excellent question. It’s difficult to get a person to dismiss the evidence they’ve accumulated—especially when they’ve built it up over a long period of time. Two strategies come to mind that I hope will be useful to you as you approach this dilemma.

Just Try It. One of the first principles in motivating someone to change their behavior is to have him or her gain direct experience and/or generate different data. While this might sound complicated, it can be as simple as conducting an experiment.

In this case, suggest that your travel partner try the following:
1. Smile as she approaches the customer service representative.
2. Greet the person with, “Hi. How are you?”
3. Then, end the interaction with something like, “Thank you for your help on this.”

Your role then becomes to make sure that she’s adhering to a scientific method. Jointly decide on outcomes to track such as overall time to fulfill a request, number or length of delays experienced, and her own level of frustration on a scale from one to five. The principle here is to track data that can be easily captured on a three-by-five card and that would be a meaningful reflection of her overall experience. At the end of the designated time period, sit down, analyze the data, and share observations and conclusions. It’s easy for someone to dismiss perspectives that come from “others,” but much harder for them to dismiss their own. Help her generate new personal data.

Master Her Stories. Invite your colleague to carry a small note pad with her during her travels. Have her write down her story directly after any “bad” customer service experiences. If you’re traveling with her, you can remind her to do this—especially when you notice her venting or starting into a rant. It doesn’t have to be super detailed, just a two-sentence summary. This exercise has the benefit of getting her to reflect on the thought processes that drive her behavior while getting her out of the in-the-moment unproductive patterns. After an agreed upon time frame (three to four weeks is often a good span), have your colleague bring the note pad to meet with you. Invite her to share her stories and then engage her in an exercise called “see both sides.” In essence, have her describe her typical, negative view and then ask her to identify all the ways that typical view is wrong or inaccurate. Then, have her describe two to three ways the same experience could be interpreted. This exercise helps to create a more balanced, accurate picture of what she is experiencing.

Backup Plan. Now, while I applaud your desire to help your colleague—and these two ideas have been really useful for me in similar situations—if she resists your attempts to help her, you may need to take a different tack. After all, you can’t force her to change, and she may not be interested in working on this at all. So, if you’ve tried the above suggestions and she persists in her negativity, you may find the only option left is to let her know the impact her negative behavior is having on you. When, and if, you get to this point, you will need to have a crucial conversation with her. A few tips:

Identify your purpose for bringing up the topic: “I want to talk with you about something that happens when we travel. And I’m guessing you may not be aware of how it’s impacting me.”
Point out the facts: “I have heard you say . . . ” or, “I have observed you . . . ”
Discuss the impact it’s having on you: “It makes me really uncomfortable when . . . ”
Share the result of this behavior: “I’ve decided that I don’t want to check in with you at the customer service desk anymore.”

This is never an easy situation to deal with, and hopefully this gives you some ideas of how you might approach this situation.

Good Luck,

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5 thoughts on “How to Change a Friend’s Behavior”

  1. Grace

    I think a practice of writing a summary of each experience is a valuable tool. I used to think that “every” flight I was on had issues (delay, lost luggage, etc) and the I started noting each flight I took and the experience. I soon realized that it wasn’t every flight and that at least half the time every thing went smoothly.

    1. Steve W.

      Interesting how the data helps you tell a different story

  2. Jacqueline Gargiulo

    I wonder if sharing the impact might open her to trying something different?

  3. Sheldon

    Thank you for your perspective. I think your recommendations are easy to use and will produce effective results. I can see how they could be used in other situations involving negative behavior. I’m excited to try them.

    1. Steve W.

      Let me know how it turns out, and if you learn anything new or different as you attempt this.

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