Why Separating The Behavior From the Person in Performance Counseling is Critical
If you’ve ever worked with little kids, you’ll understand how the word “why” can become very frustrating. No matter what great explanation you’ve told them, they ask, “Why?” Then you answer that and they ask, “Why?” And you answer that, and they ask, “Why?” and so on until you just say, “Because I said so, that’s why!” Adults are not much different, they want to know "why" also. But to change behavior, we need them to understand why the behavior is in need of changing.
To overcome one of the usual failures of supervisors and managers when conducting performance counseling, which is: "Failing to make the counseling about the behavior and not the person," and for the counseling to be most effective, we have to make the counseling session about the performance and not the person. Some reasons for doing this are:
Separating the behavior from the person allows the counselee to consider another perspective without the emotional attachment associated with their own behavior.
Separating the behavior from the person allows the counselor to focus on modifying the behavior while still maintaining the relationship and being supportive of the counselee.
Separating the behavior from the person allows the counselor and the counselee to attach the behavior to the rule, policy, law, expectations, etc. and see how the performance gap impacts individuals, teams and the entire organization.
Separating the behavior from the person allows the counselor and counselee to "be on the same side" when discussing the behavior/performance.
Some people may say, "Well, she's the one who did it ( "it" meaning the behavior), so why not let her own it?" Although, the person is the one who did the behavior that you want to change, you need to separate the behavior from the person. Remember, performance counseling is about the behavior, not the person, it's the behavior or performance that you don't approve of or that needs to be changed, not the person. Because, as soon as we say something like, “I want to talk with you about your behavior,” people naturally focus on it being about them, and then they become defensive, possibly confrontational, and the tone becomes one of an adversarial discussion, rather than a joint opportunity for performance modification.
By separating the behavior from the person, the focus is placed on the behavior, and if done correctly, provides the counselor and counselee a chance to view the behavior from a more objective standpoint. Instead of the counselee feeling angry, ashamed, guilty, or some other emotion attached to their own self-esteem, they can also separate the emotional impact and consider the behavior from a different perspective, hopefully the same way the counselor views it. Also, by separating the behavior from the person, it allows the counselor to be supportive of the person, but not the behavior.
Because the behavior and the person are not tied together, the
counselor doesn't have to choose between maintaining a good relationship, over ensuring the proper performance. This is why we say, "Save the relationship, change the behavior." By separating the behavior from the person, it allows the counselor to be supportive of the person, but still require that the behavior or performance changes.
Another equally important reason for separating the behavior from the person is that it allows the counselor to discuss the rule, policy, law, expectation, etc., that is not being met in applying it to the behavior. This makes the discussion about the expectation(s) easier because the discussion is centered around the reason for the rule, policy, law, expectation, etc., and this is the "why" both are focusing on the behavior. It isn't about the person, it is about accomplishing the goals of the organization.
There are several techniques used to separate a person from their behavior, which are discussed in the book, "SCORE Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior." Another reason for separating the behavior from the person is it allows the counselor, and the counselee to physically be "on the same side" when addressing the behavior.
Subconsciously, if people are facing the same direction and are at the same level (standing, sitting, etc.) and focused on something apart from each other (in this case the behavior), it gives the non-verbal and subconscious message that they are together
in their purpose. When conducting training seminars, counselors are directed to actually say, "Let's look at this together," while maintaining the same level (standing, sitting, etc.) as the counselee, and directing the counselee to some paper or document about the behavior.
Putting it all together: If we can separate the behavior from the person while conducting performance-based counseling, we have a better chance to consider another perspective without the emotional attachment; focus on modifying the behavior while still maintaining the relationship; attach the behavior to the rule, policy, law, expectations, etc.; and allow the counselor and counselee to "be on the same side" when discussing the behavior/performance. With S.C.O.R.E. (Supportive, Clear, Organized, Redirecting, Effort) Performance Counseling, you can "Save the relationship, change the behavior."
If you would like to attend a S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling training seminar you can find them in your area, or schedule one for your organization by clicking on this link: https://www.scoreperformancecounseling.com/seminar-booking
About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.