The Bad – And The Good

 businessman and businesswoman screaming fight for powerThe bad news about communication habits is that they are ingrained and we do them without even being conscious of it, the good news is that once we are aware of our habits – we can choose to change them. Okay for some habits, its going to take more effort than others, but yes they can be changed.

In Charles Duhigg’s Book The Power of Habit: ‘Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business he identifies habits as working on a cue, routine, reward cycle. I use a combination of this cycle plus additional steps to help my clients develop new more effective communication habits.

Following these steps for creating new effective communications habits will help you build strong relationships and inspire and motivate your teams.

The good news is that once we are aware of our habits – we can choose to change them.


Seven Key Steps

Step 1 – Identify the cue that leads to your habit. Lets say you have a habit of cutting people off in conversation. You may be a fast thinker and like to get to the point, you have little patience for slow deliberate speakers. So, the cue for your habit is people speaking in a slow deliberate tone.

Step 2 – Identify you routine response. You may feel frustrated with their slow delivery, your basal ganglia (the part of the brain that automates responses for us) kicks in and your routine is to jump in and add facts and opinions of your own (often before you are  even consciously aware that you are doing it)

Step 3 – Identify the rewards of your habit. There are reasons that we keep a ‘bad’ habit, it might be providing something we like even if that thing is not good for us in the long run. When acting on our habits we get a hit of dopamine to our brains, this feels good and is a ‘reward’ for the brain. You may get your dopamine hit from giving your own opinion and moving the conversation forward.

There are reasons that we keep a ‘bad’ habit, it might be providing something we like even if that thing is not good for us in the long run

Step 4 – Create a clear statement of the cue, routine and reward so that you know exactly what is triggering your brain and what reward your actions are bringing. Don’t be in a hurry, it can take time to work out the exact cues, routines and rewards. For those who like formula’s you can use, ‘When x happens I do y and get z.

In the case of cutting people off, a habit statement might be ‘When people speak slowly and deliberately, I get impatient and jump in and give my own facts and opinions, it feels good to hurry things up’.

Step 5 – Explore the negative impacts of your usual routine. Consider what happens to you and those around you when you follow your usual routine? Make a detailed list of all the negative impacts. You’ll need to be clear on exactly what damage your usual routine is causing before you are going to be willing to put the effort into developing a new routine.

You may notice that when you jump in with your own opinion, people often don’t listen and give their own opinions instead, which leads to the conversation going in circles and nothing getting accomplished in the meeting.

Consider what happens to you and those around you when you follow your usual routine and bad habits?

Step 6 – Implement a new routine. The new routine needs to work on the same cue and bring a similar reward, but create different results.

Remember your brain may have been automating your behavior for years, so go easy on yourself. Its often easier to start with small changes. You may need to experiment with a few different routines to find one that works well for you.

Its often easier to start with small changes rather than going for perfection.

Step 7 – Deepen your new habit and reward yourself for following it.  Going one step at a time, observing yourself, giving yourself positive feedback or having others observe you and give positive feedback all lead to strengthening the new behavior, which can then bring new rewards.

Going one step at a time and having others observe you and give positive feedback all lead to strengthening the new behavior


Creating new habits takes time and can be hard to do on your own.  Your brain becomes caught up in following the same path you’ve trodden before and it gets hard to observe yourself objectively. Get the support of a friend, a mentor or coach to help you create new routines and deep-rooted effective communications habits.

What about you? Have you noticed, and changed, an unhelpful communication habit? How did you do that, and what was easy or hard about it?

I’d love to hear your comments. Email me at carole@carolelewis.hk

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