We all behave…we speak and we do. That’s it. That’s what behavior is…the things we say and do. Isn’t that easy?
Interestingly, we’re all pretty comfortable with the things that we say and do–our own behavior. It’s other people’s behavior that gets in the way sometimes. So why does that happen? Why do other people do things that are not acceptable, desired, wanted, and so on? Well the answer to that is as easy as ABC.
We all behave for a reason. Everything we do, it is for a reason. I might not understand why you do what you do and you might not understand why I do what I do, nonetheless there is a reason. Most of the time, having to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing isn’t a big deal. However there are times when it could be most helpful to do so. For example, as a leader, understanding why you do what you do and why your people do what they do can be critical to your success. So let’s get to that understanding.
A = Antecedent: These are the things that get our behavior started. The alarm clock ringing. A red stop light. A corporate mandate. A new law. These are all meant to get behavior started. That’s what antecedents do, they prompt or activate behavior and usually do a good job of it. However, antecedents alone do not sustain behavior.
B = Behavior: Let’s agree on a definition—Behavior: the things we say and do. It is not about attitude, emotion, intent, or anything in between the ears. It’s about those things that we can see—as in a video replay. That’s behavior. As simple as that is, I find that people have a really hard time talking about and focusing on behavior. We’re very quick to jump to intention and other reasons for behavior. Do yourself a favor—just start with and try to stay with behavior for a while.
C = Consequence: When we behave something happens to us—each and every time. We might not know or be aware of what that something is but it happens. Consequences, which can be positive or negative, follow behavior and directly affect whether we will do the behavior again or not. As you’ll come to see, consequences are pretty powerful as it is consequences that sustain or stop behavior.
That’s it—pretty easy so far. I’d like to use an everyday example to bring the ABCs to life.
Suppose a new Italian restaurant opens in your neighborhood. A friend of yours is one of the first people you know to try it and she raves about how great it is…the service, the atmosphere, the food…all just great. A few weeks later you’re able to give it a try and you’re not at all impressed. The service was slow, it was too bright and loud, and the food was average at best.
Fast forward a few weeks. Same friend comes up to you and tells you about another place she tried in the next town over. It’s a new Thai place and she knows you like Thai food. She loved it and really suggests you give it a try. You remember her previous recommendation but decide that it might have just been a bad night at the Italian place. So, you give the Thai place a try and it’s horrible. You try hard to find some good things about it but just can’t.
What will you do the next time this friend recommends a restaurant? Let’s look at this in terms of ABC.
|Recommendation from a friend about new Italian restaurant||Go to Italian restaurant and eat||Bad experience—bad food, atmosphere, service|
|Recommendations from friend about Thai restaurant||Go to Thai restaurant and eat||Bad experience—bad food, atmosphere, service|
Based on two “bad” recommendations from that friend, you will likely not follow her recommendations in the future. As easy as ABC.
We are surrounded by ABCs. People are behaving around us constantly. We’re behaving constantly. You feel an itch (antecedent), you scratch it (behavior), you feel relief (consequence). Jan is thirsty (antecedent), Jan takes a drink (behavior), Jan feels satisfied (consequence). You’re at lunch and the check comes (antecedent), you pay the check for you and a friend (behavior), your friend says, “Thank you. That was very nice of you.” (consequence). There is a defined process (antecedent), Sal uses his own process (behavior), no one says anything to Sal and he gets the job done easier (consequence).
Hold on…put on the brakes. Let’s look at that last one. This is where the ABCs can become very interesting and powerful.
One would expect that if there is a process in place that people would follow it (same goes for an expectation, work direction, instruction, etc.). However, all of those things are antecedents and, as I mentioned earlier, antecedent get behavior started, they do not sustain behavior. So let’s assume that Sal was trained in the new process let’s also assume that Sal has a job aid that explains the new process. Then why isn’t Sal using the new process?
Consequences! The consequences for following the new process make the job harder and it takes longer. So this well intentioned employee who wants to do a good job (most do), finds it easier and faster to do it the old way. To be clear, it is easier and faster for Sal. This is not to say that it is better for the organization. In fact, one would hope that the new process is better for the organization (safer, higher-quality, etc.). It is what happens to the employee that matters here.
If we want to change this or any other situation, we must understand and accept this point—it is what is happening to the performer that matters. What should be happening is secondary unless we understand what is happening and why. In this case, notice the part about no one saying anything to Sal. This is as good as saying, “Sal, you do whatever you want.” As a leader, never underestimate your role or the role of other leaders in something like this (see The $oft $tuff).
I spend a lot of time on the ABCs at this site (check out It’s All About Me, The Silver Bullet, and Do You Want Fries with That) almost every article, tool, and principle that I talk about comes back to this model—after all we all behave! The Consummate Leader knows this and uses it every day.