Where behavioral science and humanism get out of the ivory tower, and into the world.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How to get your [co-worker, neighbor family member, pet, significant other] to do what you want – Part 3

I’m a drug dealer. You’re a drug dealer. The fix we give is so good people will work hard for it, people will literally clamor over each other for it, some commit crimes for a fix, and babies die without it. What’s the fix? Attention.

In part one and two I talked about planned ignoring, and positive reinforcement, here’s how to tie them together via selective attention, a very powerful tool.

Part of being social animals means we all crave attention and praise. Sure the level varies from person to person. We all know people who want it all the time.  They’re the ones always trying to be in the spot light, and all but the most reclusive hermits want at least a little attention.

This is part of what makes therapy such a unique experience for people. In theory, therapists are expert attention payers, we listen, processes and respond to you. It’s often very Fight Club-esc, “…They really listen to you instead of just...Instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”

Since attention and praise is so powerful, giving out a little extra here and there can work wonders in shaping someone’s behavior in all kinds of environments. Stopping a kvetch? Easy. Constant complaining is one way of scoring some attention, although it also usually repels people shortly after. Now remember, you’re the person who handing out their fix, so give it out on your terms.

You- ::look them in the eye and give your full attention:: “Hi Bob! What’d you do this weekend?”

Bob- “Ehh, nothing really, it was too short, now back to the grind of data entry for our terrible boss, I think she knows how looking at the screen gives me migraines…”
You- ::go back to doing paper work as soon as the complaining starts::

Bob- “Yeah, but no migraines this weekend, just nice and quite with the wife and kids.”
You – ::look them in the eye and give your full attention when hearing the little positive things:: “Sounds Nice! How are the little one’s doing?”

If you keep going like this, pretty soon Bob’s behavior will change to get the most attention possible. Just keep giving Bob a fix of attention when he’s acting positively and don’t pay him any mind when he’s not.

Same thing works for getting work done on time, or ahead of schedule. Improving organization, phone habits and anything else really. Once you get the basics of this down, you can use Shaping and Chaining to get just the kind of behavior you want from people, even if they’ve never done it before.

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