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The Five Stages of Intentional Change Theory

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The Five Stages of Intentional Change Theory

by Richard Boyatzis

How do people make changes in their behavior?

What does it take to make lasting change?

These are questions my colleagues and I have studied for the last fifty years. Since 1967 we’ve used Intentional Change Theory (ICT) to understand what leads to lasting change. ICT is a multi-level theory that helps predict sustained desired change for dyads, teams, organizations, communities and countries.

The “change” one makes may not just be in behavior, it also may be in a person’s habits, competencies, dreams, or aspirations. It may be a change in perspective, how someone looks at events in their life or how they feel in certain situations. When I say “desired,” I mean that the change is something that the person would like to occur. By “sustained,” I mean that the change lasts for a relatively long time.

The basis of Intentional Change Theory is what we call “the five discoveries.” These are:

  1. The ideal self and a personal vision
  2. The real self and its comparison to the ideal self resulting in an assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses, in a sense a personal balance sheet
  3. A learning agenda and plan
  4. Experimentation and practice with the new behavior, thoughts, feelings, or perceptions
  5. Trusting, or resonant, relationships that enable a person to experience and process each discovery in the process

People pass through these discoveries in a cycle that repeats as the person changes.

Let’s look at each of these discoveries.

1) Imagining Your Ideal Self and Creating a Personal Vision

Before making an intentional change, we need to discover who we want to be. What we call our “ideal self” is an image of the person we want to be. There are three components to developing the image of our ideal self:

  • An image of a desired future
  • Hope that one can attain it
  • Aspects of one’s core identity, which includes enduring strengths, on which to build for this desired future

Just like champion athletes develop and use an image of themselves performing at their peak in preparation for competition, there is power in focusing on a desired end. Our research shows that people develop a deep emotional commitment to making a change if they have created an image of their ideal self and use it in their change process. Hence, the output of the first discovery is a personal vision.

2) Comparing Your Ideal Self with Your Real Self

Once you have a sense of your ideal self, it’s time to look at how that ideal compares with your current “real” self. By “real,” I mean the person that other people see and with whom they interact. For many of us, our self-image is some mixture of awareness of our own internal state and the feedback we receive from others about who we are. It can be challenging to get a solid grasp of our actual strengths and weaknesses, either because we don’t want to look too closely or other people are reluctant to let us know what they see. To really consider changing a part of yourself, you must have a sense of both what you value about yourself and want to keep, and what aspects of yourself you want to change. Where your ideal self and real self are not consistent can be thought of as gaps or weaknesses. The output of this second discovery is a personal balance sheet.

3) Developing a Learning Agenda and Plan

Once you have a vision for the future and an accurate sense of your current self, it’s time to develop a plan for how to move toward your vision. In this stage, the output is on creating that learning plan. Such a plan would focus on development, and is most effective if it is coupled with a positive belief in one’s capability and hope of improvement. A learning plan would also include standards of performance set by the person who is pursuing change. Once the plan is in place, the next step is to try it out.

4) Practicing Desired Changes

The fourth discovery is to act on your learning plan and practice with desired changes. Depending on your goals, this often means experimenting with new behavior. After such practice, you have the opportunity to reflect on what happened, and experiment further. Sometimes practicing new behavior can happen in a course or a controlled learning environment, but often it happens in real world settings such as at work or at home. Whatever the situation, experimentation will be most effective in conditions where you feel safe. Such psychological safety means that you can try out your new behavior with less risk of embarrassment or serious consequences of failure.

5) Relationships That Help Us Learn

Our relationships with other people are an important part of our everyday environment. Crucial to our ability to change are the relationships and groups that are particularly important to us. They provide the context in which we can see our progress on our desired changes. Often, our relationships and groups can be sources of support for our change as well as for feedback. They also can help us from slipping back into our former ways of behaving.

Putting It All Together

There is a mechanism that allows movement from one discovery to another. Inside of us are two states, a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). Arousing the PEA allows a psycho-physiological state of being open to new ideas – this allows movement to the next discovery. In contrast, the NEA is a feeling of obligation. This stops the sustainability of any change attempted because you’re simply not motivated intrinsically.
In the Real Self, there should be an emphasis on your strengths, not on the development needs. This stimulates the PEA because it’s about building upon what you’re already good at and filling in the gaps, rather than dwelling on weaknesses.

You can handle only a few developmental or change goals at a time, so remember to make your learning plan something you are excited about trying. Approach it with openness and curiosity, then build upon what you learn gradually.

Richard Boyatzis is a distinguished University Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. He also serves as the Academic Assistant of the Department of People Management and Organization at ESADE.

Recommended Reading/Learning:

Our new Primers provide a concise overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, both valuable in creating intentional change.

The Primers are created by Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, with several fellow thought leaders in the field of EI, leadership development, and research, including Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard J. Davidson, and George Kohlrieser.

 

For even more in-depth information from Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman, see our new video series, Foundations in Emotional Intelligence. This series explores the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies in theory, with examples for practice, and support from research.

 

How to Influence Others to Get Things Done

By Richard Boyatzis

In most work situations, we work with others to get things done. Often, that means convincing people to agree with our point of view. To be most effective at bringing people to see the wisdom of your viewpoint, you need Influence, a key social intelligence competency and one of the elements I discuss with Daniel Goleman in Foundations of Emotional Intelligence and Crucial Competence.

The underlying intent of the Influence Competency is seeking to get others to agree with you.

The behaviors that indicate this Competency are doing things that appeal to their self-interest or anticipating the questions they would have and addressing them before they ask.

There is a part of Influence that becomes almost universally an indicator of effective leadership.

Actually, many of the Influence Competency indicators are good sales practices, but Influence matters for people at all levels of leadership, not just for salespeople.

Interestingly though, in certain types of leadership, Influence can have a negative impact. We found in a study of Catholic parish priests that if the priest is using Influence and people feel like it’s gone too far or that it belies a lack of humility, then it creates the opposite impact. A study of MBA students 5 to 19 years after graduation found that those who used the Influence competency at graduation were less satisfied with their lives and careers later.

Influence is a competency that needs to be applied appropriately and not go too far

That’s what we call Inspirational Leadership in our Emotional and Social Intelligence Model. This is when you’re influencing others not just to come around to your point of view—the Influence competency—but because it fits with the shared vision, purpose, or mission of the organization. When you are trying to get people to rally around this larger, often more noble purpose, it’s the competency we call Inspirational Leadership. The intent is to inspire people in their pursuit of the shared vision or mission. What it looks like in action is talking about the mission—the sense of purpose, why we are all here—and raising it up to a higher level.

How to Develop Your Influence Capability

What is the easiest way to develop or refine your Influence capability, your ability to get others to do what you want them to do? The behavioral indicators come across as pre-selling or making an argument to someone anticipating what they want out of it, and figuring out what each person can get in the situation. The easiest way to learn those techniques is to take a really good sales training course. There are a number of outstanding, three and a half-day to five-day courses out there sold by different training companies. If you really want to learn how to do the Influence competency and do it well, go through a sales training. It doesn’t mean you will become a salesperson, but it does help you in all of the ways you might want to use Influence.

To get started though, keep these three methods in mind:

  1. Aim to appeal to the self-interest of the people you’re communicating with. How would your intention benefit them?
  2. Think about any potential opposition that could arise, and prepare thoughtful ways to address those before presenting your ideas.
  3. Talk about the bigger mission of the group beyond your personal point of view.

Interested in learning more about building emotional and social leadership?

All 12 of the EI Competencies are explored in Crucial Competence, through in-depth conversations between myself, Daniel Goleman, and several other experts in the field. Foundations in Emotional Intelligence provides a great overview, and focuses exclusively on my conversation with Daniel Goleman.

 

How to Develop Empathy When It Doesn’t Come Naturally

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How to Develop Empathy When it Doesn’t Come Naturally

By Richard Boyatzis

How well do you understand the people with whom you work? In every setting, you can be more effective if you have a clear perception of those around you. Empathy is key for understanding others and is the most fundamental of the social intelligence competencies.

Empathy is the ability to sense others’ feelings and perspectives, take an active interest in their concerns, and pick up cues to what is being felt and thought.

By “understand another person,” I don’t mean merely making believe that you’re interested in their lives, but actually caring about understanding them. Can you discern another person’s motivation? Such understanding is one of the building blocks for any healthy interpersonal interaction, both personal and professional. In fact, when it’s missing, it’s a building block for negative relationships.

Think about a time when you felt that someone was really tuning in to you. What did their behavior look like? Much of empathy comes down to listening. If you want to practice it, practice listening to other people. Very often it means asking them what they’re thinking about or how they’re feeling. You might start in a group meeting where you focus on one or two people during a half-hour meeting and ask yourself, “I wonder what she’s thinking right now? I wonder what he’s thinking right now.” As a way to check whether or not you’re even close to accurate, approach them after the meeting and say, “What were you thinking about during that meeting? What did you think of what happened?” It ends up being a very useful way to see if you can tune in to different people. Ask them an open question and listen closely to the answer. The more you practice that, the easier it’s going to get and the less artificial it will feel.

As a former engineer, a lot of us who were trained technically had trouble even making eye contact. That’s a precursor to listening, and to developing empathy. It’s hard to ask a person a question and to listen to them if you’re not looking in their eyes. There are a number of things that you might have to practice to get to a higher state of empathy, but you don’t have to get to the Spock mind meld, the technique of merging minds that we learned about in Star Trek. Empathy starts with a desire to understand others better.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I had with Daniel Goleman for Crucial Competence, in which I elaborate on the foundations of emotional intelligence. You can access the full video series here.