What an 8-Year-Old Can Teach You About Getting People to Change

Let’s face it, unless people you manage perform their job perfectly and unless they are excellent changers (that accounts for 10% of the population btw), you are likely to need to guide those people to change. Why? Because unless people know how to change, they are not able to make the specific adjustments you need them to make to perform the job well.

Unfortunately, we are educated out of knowing how to change from a very young age.

Children learn (which means developing new abilities and skills) through self initiated experience. The truth is, we all change that way, except, when children are too young, we typically don’t expect them to learn any other way. Think of common skills children acquire: eating with a spoon or riding a bike. Could you imagine how long it would take to teach a baby to eat with a spoon if we modeled it? “Here honey, look at mommy…now you do it…”

By the time kids are 8, they are already frequently on their way to losing that ability to change. Simple things that come from understanding how the brain works can help you support getting other people to change:

Natural change patterns: Language in school is still taught in fractions: kids learn grammar, vocabulary, spelling etc. It’s much more interactive today than it was 100 years ago but still, teaching is falling behind. Universities such as UC Berkeley, as well as language learning software such as Rosetta Stone, use experience-based training models and are far more effective. For people to acquire change, be it learning a new language or developing a new skill, learning has to be done in the way that is natural for the brain. The more associations and relationships the brain can create, the more examples and case studies the brain identifies with the needed change, the more likely it is to acquire the new skill or behavior. Instead of repeating your expectations from your team, try creating variety and sharing many different examples instead.

Experience based: knowledge in the brain is stored and retrieved as knowledge. Experience, on the other hand, is more readily actionable. Have you ever tried lecturing to an 8-year-old about why what they just did isn’t okay? If your speech goes on for more than a very few minutes, you may get a glassy look and a child who tries to figure out what you want to hear so that the speech will be over as soon as possible.  When we want a child to learn a new behavior, it is best to get them to practice the new behavior, not to go on talking to them about it. Same principle applies to your team.

Self Initiated: My child attends Science Club, and this year he is competing on the Rock team. In previous years the group’s coach recited the names of the rocks and asked the kids to repeat after her: “This is Pumice, it is an igneous rock…” This year the group’s coach played the game of “Hangman” with the kids: “Find the rock: _ _ m_ _ e …is it Metamorphic, Igneous, or Sedimentary?” If you had to make an intuitive guess, which approach do you think worked better in terms of retention and retrieval?

The brain changes in a very specific way. If we follow the brain’s “rules of engagement” we can generate new skills that can be acquired and applied in a lasting way. Click here to check out KCI’s Acquisition System, following the the five stages the brain follows for acquiring change.

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