Changing People’s Expectations of You

Like most men, I get fed up shaving. Every single day, sometimes twice a day, the unending ritual continues. Shaving requires all the gear. Cream, a sharp razor, loads of hot water and aftershave. So this year, on holidays, I stopped. Grew a beard for 3 weeks. Although it didn’t make me look even remotely like George Clooney, I enjoyed the freedom from routine and the new image.

Fan Club: Not everyone was a fan. The reaction at home (Linda and the kids) was to remind me of the 3 phases of man. Firstly, you believe in Santa. Secondly, you become Santa. Thirdly, you look like Santa. After exactly 11,423 negative comments, I caved in and shaved it off.

Changing Behaviours: People who work in the addiction area, highlight one of the difficulties in getting clients to quit (drinking, taking drugs or whatever) is to overcome the negative reaction from partners and family. Members of a family take a stance in relation to the addict (typically either support or critique roles). If the person with the addiction changes their behaviour, this can ‘upset the pattern’ and subtle pressure (often unconscious) is put on the addict to go back to their normal routine. It seems weird, even counter intuitive, but patterns of expected behaviour become established and ‘roles’ develop around this. These roles are stable over time and can be difficult to shift, even where the shift is towards something more positive. No man is an ‘island’; making sustainable behavioural changes impacts both the client and also the key people who they interact with. Why? Because if I change, it impacts you.

Overcoming Resistance: In coaching executives, I have encountered ‘resistance to change’ many times. If the person being changed exhibits resistance this is usually easy enough to spot. A range of tactics which allows the executive coach to recognize and confront resistance are part of the standard ‘toolkit’ used by people working in this area. But when resistance to change comes from people whom the executive coach never meets, then the client needs to be skilled up to recognize and deal with this subtle form of sabotage. They need to expect resistance and be helped to understand and overcome it.

Push Back: Take an example where an executive is ‘overly strong’ and makes all judgment calls. Based on negative feedback or personal reflection, the executive decides to change to a more democratic, inclusive style of management. Paradoxically, when they attempt this, the feedback from the senior team may be that they have become ‘wishy-washy’ or lack interest/personal conviction in the business. The self-same executives, who complained about the leader’s authoritarianism, may now take the exact opposite stance. By changing his/her behaviour, the leader has put pressure on others to do the same. Because when I change, it impacts you.

Going Public: It takes time for new behaviours to be recognized as a style (i.e. not simply an aberration) and for people around the executive to change their own roles. In the example listed above, the expectation may be that the senior team will become more actively involved in decision-making. Where the role of ‘moaning’ about the leaders behaviour has been made redundant (because the leader has actually changed), other executives sometimes scramble to discover a new role which dovetails with this. So, how can this be progressed?

Sometimes I advise executives to announce that they will be doing something different (working from home on Tuesday’s, entertaining key customers, not proof-reading the board information pack etc.). Making a public pronouncement that they will be different (provided it’s been well thought out in advance) can help to make their new behaviours understandable and eliminate any efforts to reverse these. A caveat is that some things cannot be openly communicated (“OK everyone, listen up. I am not going to get pissed at lunchtime in the future, except on Fridays”) and will need to be walked rather than talked.

Changing Expectations: Changing behaviour is difficult. Not alone do you have to break your own patterns, but you may also have to reprogramme the expectations of others that you will continue to behave as you have done previously. Changing people’s expectations of you is a potential useful weapon in your ambition to create a new and improved version of yourself.

So, this is an advance warning to my own gang. Next year I’m going for the full 4-week beard. Maybe I will even keep growing it, post-holidays. And I don’t care if the kids tell me to apply to Arnotts for the Christmas season. So that’s that. Sorted!


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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