Leadership Habits: Create Better Communications

I don’t think we’re aware of how much habits dominate our lives. I’m not talking about brushing teeth, driving, and routine chores. After reading Charles Duhigg‘s book The Power of Habit last week, I’ve taken off a few blinders as to how habits control our communications.

Nearly half of what we say to our coworkers and family members isn’t based on well thought-out decisions. We communicate by routine. We perform without thinking.

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

It’s only been in the last two decades that we’ve learned how habits form. Apparently the brain starts building a routine immediately after we perform a task, in order to conserve energy reserves. It simplifies our decision-making process so that we don’t have to think every time we want to do something.

Which is great when it comes to getting ready for work, or any of the countless routines of daily living. But the brain doesn’t stop there, it continues to rely on habits and routines every chance it gets.

What so you need to do if you want to change a communication habit, like become a better listener or become better at expressing empathy? What if, like many high achieving executives in positions of power, you want to come across as less authoritative and more open to dialogue?

That presupposes you want to change, of course. But assuming you are willing to put in some work on this… what do you need to do to break an old communication habit and replace it with a new, more effective one?

Here’s brief outline from Duhigg’s book, breaking down the elements of a habit:

  1. Identify the cue that triggers the response.
  2. Become aware of the routine, what it is you do when you automatically respond to the cue.
  3. Identify the rewards you get.

To change what you automatically do, create alternative routines. The cue will probably stay the same, just make sure the rewards are still there. What you do is figure out an alternative behavior that will still get you the same or better rewards you seek.

For example, in the case of better communications, here is how your usual habit occurs:

  1. A co-worker or subordinate expresses an idea.
  2. You respond with a better idea, but one that doesn’t encourage further discussion.
  3. You’re rewarded with feeling authoritative and expert (but you may have missed an opportunity).

In creating better communications habits, here is how your new routine would evolve:

  1. Someone expresses an idea.
  2. You respond by asking a question to find out more and show genuine interest.
  3. You’re rewarded with appreciation because you listened, and the person feels trust and a connection with you.

The cue remains the same, the reward may improve. By establishing a new response to the cue, you change a habit for the better. What habit could you try this out with? I’d love to hear from you.

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