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April 2013

A Question of Habits

"Men habitually use only a small part of the powers which they possess and which they might use under appropriate circumstance."

… William James (1842-1910) US philosopher and psychologist

Here is a question for you. When you give someone feedback, just what do you hope to achieve? Take a minute or two to give this question some thought before you read on.

It seems that giving people feedback, particularly negative feedback, continues to be one of the hardest things to do and even harder to do well. On a personal level, many people shy away from giving feedback and when it is given, it is often done so in an emotive and blunt way born of frustration. Organisations invest heavily in training and coaching on this subject yet there seems to be little headway made in this area. So just what is going on here?

This takes us back to our original question. What does one hope to achieve when giving feedback? I have asked that question of quite a number of people in leadership roles over the past month or so and I have been rather surprised by the responses. These responses tend to fall into two groups. The first group are those who looked at me rather blankly struggling to find an answer. The question seemed to create a breakdown for them as they simply assumed this is what they had to do because they were managers. Giving feedback was part of their job description.

The second group also took some time to collect their thoughts and then came to a generally held view that feedback was given for three basic reasons. Firstly for positive reinforcement, so that people would continue to do something seen as good. Secondly, to motivate people towards a goal. This was generally done by letting people know where they stood in relation to progress towards their goal with a view to encouraging them to achieve that goal. Finally there was the idea of giving feedback to help someone improve their performance.

It is the third response that I want to explore further. More often than not, an improvement in performance speaks to the need to address a consistent behaviour that someone feels is less than effective or even destructive. These behaviours are commonly related to how an individual is dealing with or affecting those around them. In these cases, it is critical to recognise that improvements in performance are really about changing a person's habitual ways of doing things.

Consider this. According to Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. your subconscious mind is running your life. The subconscious has 40,000,000 nerve impulses per second whilst the conscious fires 40 nerve impulses per second. It is clear from this that most of what you do is subconscious, which is the realm of habits.

In other words, the vast majority of what we do, we do not consciously consider. We just do it. These are our habits. When we are giving a person feedback with a view to improvement, we are really asking them to change a habit. No doubt, you have tried to change a habit at some point in your life. It is not easy and the more ingrained the habit, the harder it is to change.

How does this relate to giving feedback?

Feedback creates awareness about habitual action. It can be the catalyst for changing a habit but it is not enough to ensure the change. That requires the creation of a new habit and that requires consistently different conscious action over a period of time. If you expect that simply giving someone feedback once or even twice will be enough for them to change what may be the habit of a lifetime, then you are likely to be rather disappointed and frustrated by the result.

So I invite you to consider this. The next time you are giving someone feedback think about whether you are asking them to create a new habit. If you are then consider how your feedback fits into the process of habit changing and what else has to be put in place for this to occur.

We invite you to explore more in the articles section of our web site.


Introducing Play Create Elevate

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

… Plato (427 BC–347 BC) Greek Philosopher

In early April Jacqui decided, after more than a decade in the executive and corporate coaching world, to move on to something new.

Although she will continue to see her long standing Talking About clients and is still available for coaching, Her primary focus will be Play Create Elevate which has a two-fold mission.

The first is to make it OK for adults to play in child-like ways to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. And the second is to make it OK for people to speak comfortably and openly about depression, stress and anxiety in useful ways, in all parts of life.

To find out more you can give Jacqui a call on +61 (0)412 741 531 or check out the website, www.PlayCreateElevate.com.au, and let her know what you think.

More on PCE next month!

The Monthly Diversion

The Art of Selling

A keen country lad applied for a salesman's job at a city department store. In fact it was the biggest store in the world - you could get anything there. The boss asked him, "Have you ever been a salesman before?"

"Yes, I was a salesman in the country" said the lad. The boss liked the cut of  him and said, "You can start tomorrow and I'll come and see you when we close up. "The day was long and arduous for the young man, but finally 5 o'clock came around. The boss duly fronted up and asked, "How many sales did you make today?"

"One," said the young salesman.

"Only one?" blurted the boss, "most of my staff make 20 or 30 sales a day. How much was the sale worth?"

"Three hundred thousand dollars," said the young man.

"How did you manage that?" asked the flabbergasted boss. 

"Well," said the salesman "this man came in and I sold him a small fish hook, then a medium hook and finally a really large hook. Then I sold him a small fishing line, a medium one and a huge big one. I asked him where he was going fishing and he said down the coast. I said he would probably need a boat, so I took him down to the boat department and sold him that twenty foot schooner with the twin engines. Then he said his Volkswagen probably wouldn't be able to pull it, so I took him to the car department and sold him the new Deluxe Cruiser."

The boss took two steps back and asked in astonishment, "You sold all that to a guy who came in for a fish hook?"

"No," answered the salesman "He came in to buy a box of Tampons for his wife and I said to him that your weekend's shot, you may as well go fishing."


"The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless."

… T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) US publisher and playwright


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Since the formation of Talking About in 2005, we have published our e-zine every month. Before that, Chris wrote regular newsletters and e-zines with Gaia Consulting dating back to 1995. If you would like to explore more of Chris' ideas then you can access our e-zine archive and view any newsletter written since 2005 by clicking here or to look at all the articles Chris has written over the years simply click here.

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