Obstacles to Sustained Behavior Change

Dear Coach,

What are the biggest obstacles to workplace behavior change?



Dear Cassandra,

In my experience, there are many internal and external obstacles to sustained positive behavior change. Here, I’ll focus on three internal obstacles: Confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, and the Solomon Paradox.

Confirmation bias is a term used in behavioral economics. Essentially, it means that once we’re inclined to think or act a certain way, we tend to interpret everything around us as supporting what we’re already inclined to do. We filter out information that could be to the contrary, and we interpret everything that’s ambiguous in favor of our pre-existing inclination.

The fundamental attribution error is simple. We see ourselves in a fundamentally differently way than we see others. And the difference is in our favor. For example, if you succeed, you attribute it to your perseverance, grit, dedication, etc. I, however, attribute it to luck. Conversely, if you fail, you attribute it to bad luck. I attribute it to a flaw in your character. Another way to think of this is road rage. I cut you off in traffic. I attribute it to an innocent, unintended mistake. You attribute it to unadulterated selfishness – as you hit your horn, scream obscenities, and flash me the middle finger!

The Solomon Paradox comes from King Solomon who was revered for his wisdom, yet his personal decisions were disastrous for his kingdom. University of Chicago researchers found that when interview subjects are asked what they would do if faced with challenging circumstances, such as suspecting your spouse of cheating or fearing the imminent loss of your job, their responses were very different than when asked the same questions with this variation: A close friend faces these challenges and calls you for advice. When advising a friend, subjects suggested gathering more facts, identifying more options and being more flexible and open to alternative actions than when they’re the one faced with problem. Hence the name, “Solomon Paradox.”

The beauty of coaching is that it can help people surmount these obstacles. Role-play exercises such as Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching CEO Brandon Mergard and I demonstrate here, can be especially valuable. Obstacles to meaningful sustained change are just that: obstacles. With help, they can be overcome. Too bad King Solomon didn’t have a coach. 😊



Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at AsktheCoach@mgscc.net.


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