We’ve all been there. You attend some Leadership training and leave feeling inspired and positive about making changes.

Then a few weeks later, you find yourself in a tricky conversation where you’re doing that-thing-you-said-you’d-change and afterwards you think “Didn’t I have some training to stop this?”

The key is to practice the skills we want to develop so we have them at our disposal when we need them.

So, what makes good intentions translate into behavioural change?

Often, we expect communication skills to develop within us without practice. We know the principals and sometimes that knowledge alone will translate into a change in our behaviour.

The problem is that sometimes the day-to-day firefighting of work means we can quickly forget what we have learned and fall into repeating our old habits.

Old habits die hard, so how do we incorporate new communication behaviours into our leadership skill set?

One way is to start focussing on behavioural competencies with the same rigour as we would look at any other workplace competency and give ourselves some targets.

For example, a common behavioural change people write down in their action plan is:
“I want to allow more silence and pauses in the conversation.”

It’s a laudable goal, especially when developing your coaching skills:
It gives a chance your message to land, for others to speak and you to think.

It is a goal however, not a target against which you can deliberately act, measure, and then repeat your success.

SMART Targets

A common tool for target setting is the acronym SMART. You may well be using it!

Here’s how we could apply it to this behavioural example:

SPECIFIC

In what specific conversation will I be practising using more pauses?

MEASURABLE

How will I know when I’ve done them?
For example, could I make a note of how many times I’ve paused?

ACHIEVABLE

What’s an achievable target?

REALISTIC

Realistically, how will pausing help in the context of that conversation?

TIMELY

When will I do this?

This process can help us focus on the behaviours we would like to change and practise them.

We can take this further by going beyond the achievable target:
What would be an AUDACIOUS target?

Sometimes we’ve found aiming higher can engage the imagination and creativity far more than thinking of what’s “achievable.”

We can make our targets Smarter – adding a couple of letters that are especially useful when it comes to behavioural targets.

In this case, rather than the usual E for Evaluation, we might want to try E for….

ENGAGED

How motivated am I to do this? How can I help my motivation? Who else do I need to engage in this? For example, could I tell the other person involved of my intention and ask for feedback?

REVIEWED

When or how will I be reviewing my target?

There is of course a health warning – you have to be willing to go with the flow of the conversation and not crowbar in a pause just because you’ve set a target!

There is a balance here of having an authentic conversation, where you are really listening to the other person, and trying a new skill.

Which is why those engagement and review questions are so important.

Give yourself time to reflect – what really stopped you pausing, was it the flow of the conversation or were you following old habits? What was the impact when you did pause? How did it help the conversation?

And of course:

What’s the next target?

By being a bit SMARTER about practicing we’ve got more chance of making the behaviours stick, and increasing the repertoire of Leadership skills available to us in a tricky conversation.