The other day one of my coaching clients complained to me about his personality profile that was interfering with his ability to connect with his clients. “My DiSC says I’m a D/C,” he said. “But I need to be more ‘I’, so I can connect better with more of my clients. It’s been a challenge.”

My client was really struggling, after he had put his faith in a personality profiling system. He was stuck. He had a personality label and he trusted this label. It was obvious that this frustrated him.

Now, you may or may not know what DiSC or D/C means but you don’t need to. It’s a personality profiling system that, like all other personality profiling systems, separates people into neat “types”, which are effectively abstract labels we stick to ourselves and try to reinforce, consciously or not. We tend to work to justify these, and find situations that reinforce them.

But let me tell you about the problem with labels: they are a barrier to change. A label names you and becomes a barrier to change instead of a change enabler. This is a fact.

Why change? Because we grow through change, through constant learning. We grow through learning new behaviors. Often we need to become chameleons of different behaviors, not just a rigid type.

My client had to adopt new behaviors if he wanted to connect better with his clients. This is what I told him when he explained the problem: I asked him to describe the specific behavior he believes is lacking. I asked him “What are the behaviors that you observe in other colleagues that you feel you need to master so you could connect with your clients?”

He told me he wished he could be more open with clients, more empathetic and not as blunt as he sees himself to be. So, I introduced him to the concept of changing the behavior to change the person. His description above was still somewhat vague and abstract, though. He needed to get specific about the behaviors — tell fun stories or ask questions that help him get to know the client better. Specific behaviors.

Think of behaviors as habits. This is what they are — we are programmed to act in a certain way in a given situation. So, if we want to change a behavior, we need to change the way we act in that situation. First, we need to identify the behavior that needs changing, along with other relevant ones — behaviors never happen in a vacuum.

Say, for example, that you want to become a better public speaker. This combines several behaviors that could be summed up as: coherently articulating your thoughts and connecting with your audience. These will have specific behaviors that you need to work on, if you feel you are lacking in one or more respects. The thing to remember is that everything can be learned.

Once you’ve identified the behavior that needs to be changed, you then have to identify the new behavior you need to learn. In this case, that would be, of course, being confident in front of an audience and capable of grabbing and holding their attention.

While that’s a good summation, we still need to get more specific than that: what does confident in front of an audience look like, feel like, sound like? What are the specific behaviors that you observe in others who do that, which you need to take on and learn and practice?

Once we are clear about this, it’s practice time. Initially, the change you are trying to make would likely work in some cases but not in others. This is only natural — it takes time to perfect a new behavior. Your goal is to make it automatic.

If you want to be a good public speaker, or, like my client, more open when communicating with clients, you simply have to become this new you. You need to make the new behavior an organic part of yourself. This happens through repetition, just like driving a car or learning a sport.

Initially, the new behavior will seem unnatural, awkward, even embarrassing sometimes. The first attempt at using it could be an utter failure. But only through repetition could we receive feedback about our new behavior and only through feedback can we learn the new behavior effectively.

We all learn to walk through feedback, such as encouragements from our family. We also learn to influence others by observing and making a note of their responses to what we say and do, and how we say and do it. We then adjust our behavior to receive the response we want. It’s the same with any new behavior

Once you step on the path to change it’s only a matter of time and persistence. If you are highly observant you will effect the change more quickly. If you are more focused on your inner world than the world around you, it might take longer but it will happen.

Ultimately, the truth is that whatever the personality type, you can change yourself and others for the better, just by changing behavior. Behavior is the change enabler.

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