How to help others to change their bad habits

No one is perfect: everyone is likely to have at least one bad habit. We also know that most undesirable habits take years to develop and won’t be eliminated overnight. Some people don’t want to change them anyway. But when people’s habits begin to affect their performance - and that of others - and possibly their careers, your intervention is required. The flaws have to be eliminated or significantly reduced. Here’s how you can help others to change their irritating behaviours...

1. Get the habit into perspective.

Bad habits generally fit into two types. There are the easy-to-deal-with compulsions - such as smoking in the workplace, bullying, and gossiping. Then there are the more complex habits - such as pessimism, rebelliousness, bulldozing, and pushing people too hard - that translate into consistently problematic behaviour. Both types can affect an individual’s or a group’s performance - the former being much easier to manage than the latter.

2. Ask yourself two questions.

Your possible involvement requires that you ask yourself two questions:

The first: Is the effort required by me to help the person change worth it? The person may not warrant the investment.

The second: Am I the right person to help the employee change? Perhaps your HR professional, executive coach, or a psychologist is a better choice. If this is the case, delegate the task to the appropriate person but insist on being kept informed of continuing developments.

3. Eliminate or reduce compulsive behaviours.

If you have decided to deal with the compulsive behaviour yourself, follow this established approach:

  • plan the initial meeting; research the behaviour and the problems that it is causing; note issues you want to raise
  • make sure you schedule enough time to discuss the situation thoroughly; avoid unnecessary interruptions
  • express clearly your perceptions of the employee’s behaviour - observed patterns, effects on others, etc.
  • suggest specific ideas to help the person change the behaviour and enlisting his or her support in any process
  • make time for a follow-up meeting soon after the initial discussion.

Be aware that a likely scenario could be that the person will make an effort to satisfy you without necessarily eradicating the problem behaviour. For example, your employee might agree to stop taking smoking breaks during work time, but may continue to do so when working away from the office. It is not unusual for compromises to be reached in this way.

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