To help us understand how to be more influential it’s useful to understand what generates our and others’ behaviour.
We are all aware of what is often referred to as our conscious mind, but what does it mean when people refer to our unconscious or subconscious mind? It’s not really that we have two separate minds—it is all our one mind—but some of it we don’t have conscious access to, or we don’t have access to it all of the time.
What is surprising is that it is said that the part of mind of which we are conscious is only really like the tip of the iceberg: in fact the unconscious part of our mind is the much bigger driver in our lives. It controls us much more than we realise.
Sometimes we are conscious of our behaviour, or we consciously decide what we are going to do and how; at other times, we act more unconsciously. So, for example, we may be unaware of our body language and what messages it might be giving others—or even giving us.
Behaviour—‘I don’t know what came over me’ or ‘that wasn’t like me’—can have come from the unconscious.
The diagram above shows that, for every person, behaviour is driven by their emotions and feelings, and by their thoughts and beliefs. One cannot act unless one has premises on which to initiate the action, and a context in which to do it. There is always a reason why we do what we do: actions do not just spring up, completely without cause. The causes are our feelings and emotions, and our thoughts and beliefs. Of course, sometimes we are not conscious of some causes, but that doesn’t invalidate the process.
So, if we suddenly feel angry, we might react in a particular way. If we feel sad or hurt, we respond from those feelings. Or if we have a belief that someone should or shouldn’t do something—for example, people should say ‘excuse me’ if they bump into us—then our behaviour may well be triggered from that belief. And, again, sometimes we might be aware of the feelings or beliefs and, at other times, we don’t consciously realise what we are reacting to—these may be more hidden, unconscious feelings or beliefs.
But the feelings and the beliefs also have causes: they arise from the experiences we have had. This process goes right back to before we were born. Things happen to us (at any age) and we create ideas about ourselves and about the world as a result. We create feelings about ourselves and the world.
So, for example, a child may be playing in the garden and, for some time, has been trying to climb up and get onto the wall, but has not been able to. Then, one day, they manage to scramble up and get on top of the wall. They feel great! They’ve succeeded, they are having fun. They feel safe and triumphant. Then suddenly their mother comes out of the house and pulls them down and tells them they are not safe, or that they are being naughty.
In that moment what does the child decide? It could be any number of things, especially if the child is young and doesn’t yet fully understand the world and people around them. They make think:
Then they typically forget they made the decision and the belief they formed. But, although they bury it, it’s still there and thereafter they build upon it.
So, the same child might later be out having fun with their friends but start to feel uncomfortable about the situation. They withdraw a bit and just watch the others. Unconsciously the previous decision or belief is now driving their behaviour. They don’t even know or remember why they are feeling or behaving the way they are.
Later on in life, whilst they are not conscious of the feelings and beliefs, they somehow don’t trust themselves to extend themselves. And all this from a misunderstanding of an experience in their younger years that they have long since forgotten.
Or imagine that the person comes across the saying “the higher they climb, the harder they fall” and it resonates with their much older belief. Unconsciously, they take on this as a new belief. Imagine what it does to their career. Consciously they are doing all the right things, but unconsciously this belief is acting against them in some way.
So, in order to change our behaviour, we have to have a (new) experience. This adds to, or changes, our beliefs and feelings, and these changes in turn result in modified behaviour. Finally, we discover that we get more new experiences as a result of doing the modified behaviour (for example, we notice that other people react differently to us). That tends to reinforce the new beliefs and feelings and that reinforces the new behaviour in a virtuous circle.
Incidentally, it’s truer to say that our current thoughts and feelings are driven by our current memories of past experiences. Interestingly, many of our memories are inaccurate—or just plain wrong—which makes for a rather tenuous basis for some of our beliefs and behaviour.
An experience tends to get us into our feelings, and research shows that we make all our decisions when in our feelings. We may well do rational research and investigation before the decision, and complicated rationalisation afterwards, but the decision itself includes a component of emotion.
If you want someone to change their behaviour or shift their position, you will be most successful if you can give them an experience. The more emotionally charged the experience is the better. A car salesman doesn’t lecture you about the car he is selling you, he lets you drive it (and he shuts up if he has any sense). Food shops often give you tastes of cheese and other foods before you buy. A trainer tells you a story you can empathise with rather than just giving the theory straight. An experience can be a story—a picture in words.
If you recognise that other people’s behaviour is driven by their beliefs and emotions, then the more you can talk to these—rather than the behaviour—the better.
We often talk about someone having a ‘bad attitude’, or a ‘good attitude’. Attitude turns out to be a complex concept to define accurately. One useful approach is to consider it as the top three boxes of the behavioural cycle model above. In other words, attitude is a complex interaction of thoughts and beliefs, of emotions and feelings, and of behaviours. The interrelation between these is more complicated than the simple flow shown in the picture (which emphasises the prevailing wind, the usual path the energy takes).
Attitude is an important concept in influencing because it shows that it is not sufficient to address one’s own behaviour, or that of other people. We have to work with attitudes (ours and other people’s) if we are to make real progress.
> Emotional intelligence in the workplace (video)
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . published 30 march 2013 . image: Freeimages