People are not their behaviours

Whenever Ruth’s name came up in a meeting, people’s eyes would roll upwards.

“Ruth’s difficult and scary. Why is she still in the team?” someone asked.

Here red10 ‘s Hazel Howard suggests a healthier mindset that makes change more likely and possible – for us and/or others.

 How Often Do You Hear People Using Labels?

We tend to judge others by their behaviours. This isn’t unreasonable, because this is what we observe.

In adopting certain behaviours, we can find ourselves being labelled in a certain way:

  • If we continually joke around, we can be perceived as the ‘joker’ in the team
  • If we continually challenge, we can be perceived as ‘difficult’.

How often do you hear someone like Ruth described as ‘difficult’ or ‘scary’?

How often do you label yourself?

How often do you label yourself>

Why Does Avoiding Labels Enable Change?

It’s dangerous to intertwine someone’s identity with their behaviour.

We may experience Ruth’s behaviours as difficult to deal with, but that’s very different to labelling Ruth herself as difficult.

Behaviours are what we do…they’re our actions. Sometimes they work for us and sometimes they don’t.

By recognising that any behaviour is not a characteristic of us, and therefore part of our identity, we can more readily and easily change it.

We want to be able to change the behaviour – not the character of the person.

If you can separate the individual from the behaviour, it is easier to change the behaviour. Behaviour doesn’t exist permanently.

What Does a Healthier Mindset Look Like?

Instead of “I’m a failure” when your presentation doesn’t go well
How about “That presentation didn’t go as well as I would have liked, next time will be better as I’ll take more time to prepare”

This separates the behaviour from the individual and makes it easier to change exactly you want to do differently, in both the way you think and talk about it.

How Did This Help Ruth?

Ruth was an excellent colleague in my team. Her work ethic was beyond compare; she was driven to succeed in ways that left the rest of the team in the shade.

Ruth admitted she knew people found her, in her words, ‘scary’.

She didn’t like the label but didn’t know how to change, hoping that if people valued her work that would be enough for her. When someone didn’t like her work – she took this as a personal attack.

Instead of  “I’m scary”
We explored “The way I used to use ‘clipped’ language, and the way I used to challenge, was perceived by some as ‘scary’”

This opened up the possibility for change, and the creation of helpful behaviours when interacting with others. By putting it in the past, it was no longer currently part of her and was something that she used to do.

It is often helpful when changing it to confine it to the past tense as this makes way for the new behaviour(s).

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