Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Friday, 13 March 2009
Monday, 2 March 2009
The Way to Change Someone’s Attitude Is To Change Their Behaviour (And the Harder You Try the More they’ll Resist!)
In 1957, Leon Festinger published a ground breaking theory which changed the way psychologists thought about decision making and behaviour, and has also more recently given change professionals much to think about too.
The theory is called ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ and works like this. The Brain has the capacity to hold millions of ‘Cognitions’ or thoughts such as ‘I’m frustrated in my job’ and ‘Manchester United are playing at home tonight’. Most of the time these cognitions have little to do with each other (like my job and United). However, some cognitions are related, for example ‘my boss doesn’t care’ and ‘I’m frustrated in my job’. These cognitions are related and one follows on from the other…they go together or are known as ‘consonant’.
However, we sometimes have cognitions that are related but do not follow on from one another – in fact they may be complete opposites, for instance ‘my boss cares about my personal development and growth’ and ‘I’m frustrated in my job’. The cognitions are referred to as ‘Dissonant’.
Here’s the really interesting part…Festinger’s theories demonstrated that people do not like dissonant cognitions…so much so that we will go to extraordinary lengths to eliminate it. For example I could eliminate the dissonance in the example above by rationalising that my boss in only going through the motions, or that my boss doesn’t really have that much flexibility to change my job.
The principle here being that ‘the way to change someone’s attitude is to change their behaviour’
Consider a person in an organisation who is one of the most cynical people you can imagine. Involving them in an improvement team may result in a response of ‘it’s just a fad…it will disappear like all the other initiatives” (holding this belief will reduce the dissonance for this person).
Invite them again and show them the follow through of actions from previous sessions and the response will shift to ‘I’ll wait and see if this will work’. It’s a small shift in attitude but its movement nevertheless.
Further involvement and tangible results will see yet further attitude change…we’ve experienced the transformation of literally hundreds of so called ‘doubters’ into change champion through this approach.
"What small changes in behaviour could you bring about that would create a gradual shift in attitude, and what could you do as a follow-up that would change it yet further" are useful questions to reflect on as a leader or facilitator of change.