In the Classroom I
To Change Others, Change Yourself
You can become anything you want to be. "This is the most important idea in the history of the world," Chuck Dwyer, academic co-director of Wharton's Building Relationships That Work program, tells a group of managers during a session on "self-design." The three-day program helps participants revitalize the relationships that affect the quality of their lives and the profitability of their businesses. They learn to better understand and change their own thinking and behavior, as well as that of others.
We are much more malleable than we realize. "We now know on the basis of good neurological evidence how to change our thinking, feeling, and actions," he says. "Anything we are is a function of what we have been taught to think, feel, and act. You can override guilt, blame, and shame. Everything that is in your head was put there accidentally. When you feel tense or angry, you say: 'It is the way I am. I can't help how I feel.' It turns out that you can help how you feel. You can design yourself as an adult. It is quick, safe, painless, and private."
"We now know on the basis of good neurological evidence how to change our thinking, feeling, and actions. You can design yourself as an adult. It is quick, safe, painless, and private."
To redesign your thinking, you first have to understand the brain's architecture. William "Ned" Herrmann, who led management education at General Electric's Crotonville center, identified four interconnected clusters of specialized processing modes that he color-coded for differentiation. These are four different ways of thinking that add up to the whole brain. (As Dwyer says, "We are not a single individual, we are a coalition.") They are:
In most individuals, one or more of these spheres is dominant. Certain companies, industries, or professions attract people with specific types of dominance. For example, in health care professions, medical staff are in the more logical sphere (A) while administrators find organizing and safekeeping more dominant (B), nurses tend to have more emotional dominance (C), and psychiatrists may have a more experimental approach (D). Simple tests can help identify the dominant parts of your thinking brain and this brain dominance affects how you perceive the world and how you are perceived by others.
Once you understand these differences, you can better change yourself and others. "You begin to see yourself and how you prefer to process information," Dwyer says. "No matter how you process information, three-quarters of the world doesn't process information that way. Once you can read other people, you can shape your behavior to get through to them. You can repackage your idea to fit the learning style and cognitive style of that person."
When we try to change, we often engage in self-talk, rather than self-design. We tell ourselves not to be so angry, go on a diet, or follow an exercise regimen. "Based on the design of the brain, it will not work if you don't follow certain steps," he says. Understanding the beliefs and emotions that underlie our actions gives us the opportunity to change them.
The Friend Who Arrives Late
Dwyer gives the example of a friend who always arrives late. He is predictable in his lateness. One day, Dwyer bought two tickets to a jazz festival that was sold out months in advance. He asked his friend to be at the house no later than 2 p.m. to reach the event in time. As he waited for his tardy friend to arrive, Dwyer became angry and frustrated. He rehearsed negative emotions. True to form, the friend sauntered up the path at 2:35. Dwyer berated his friend, losing more precious time. Of course, he would have preferred not to feel this way, but he thought he had no choice.
But he did have a choice. If he carefully examined his behavior and beliefs, and whether they contribute to his life and health, or achieving his goals, he could have looked for ways to change both behavior and belief. He could have left his friend's ticket at the box office and met him at the event. "Knowing my friend is always late, why not pick him up?" Dwyer says.
Once you recognize the opportunity for changing beliefs, emotions, and behaviors, you can develop a new set of beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. "Instead of rehearsing negative emotions, you can put a new set of neurological tracks in your head," he says. But how do you do this?
© 2008 The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania