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Transforming Harmful Conversational Habits into Productive Habits

Intro. We all have annoying habits that bother us or might bother others. Deeply ingrained and annoying habits are challenging to overcome. These bad habits require no strategic planning as we go about our day. For example, we freely offer unsolicited advice or criticism. We interrupt conversations or exhibit a lack of attention. These behaviors annoy most people. What do these bad habits cost the offenders? They can cost personal/professional relationships, reputation, even a promotion or a client. Why do we feel the need to keep them? What is to be gained? They give us the ability to offer our knowledge, receive validation, to display value–things that are not necessarily bad. These are the characteristics of fervent, devout, and zealous inner desires, although the way we go about obtaining these is problematic. Furthermore, these habits become personality flaws and liabilities. We are essentially forcing people to validate and value us. Why are these annoying habits so common? -Because we WANT to be validated, we want others to know that we are worthy, valuable, and useful. It is perfectly normal to want co-workers, bosses, friends, or significant others to validate us, but there are another place and time for this.

Ponder. Let’s concentrate on you. Before you begin replacing these bad habits with good habits, you need to acknowledge a few things about yourself. First, it is normal to want and need validation and to be valued. Second, it is imperative to discover or re-discover your own worth and value. Third, you must spend some time to think and reflect about what you really want. Once you have acknowledged these things, how do you identify the bad habits that need to be corrected? You might ask a trusted friend, mentor or significant other for feedback to help quickly identify areas of concern. Once you are aware of your bad habits, pick one to work on. For example, replace offering unsolicited advice with careful listening. Alternatively, in a more personal situation, you might hug someone instead of offering unsolicited advice.

Partner. In a career situation, it is best to find a good coach; otherwise, designate a trusted friend or family member with whom you have consistent encounters to be your accountability partner. Checking in regularly with your partner to monitor progress is an integral part of the process. As an example: limit unsolicited advice to once a day and replace it with either saying “uh-huh” to indicate that you are listening, or rephrasing what is being said to you. Let’s face it: most people just want to be heard. Well-trained coaches are professional listeners and validators and they will call you out when necessary. It depends on how serious you are with changing a habit. Coaching can facilitate this process in the most efficient way. Replacing your bad habits with good habits one at a time provides you with the best of both worlds–it keeps your relationships and character intact and at the same time allows you to receive validation from your partner. Check in with the people around you and adjust the process as necessary. Over time, with continued effort and commitment, you will be successful at replacing your bad habits with good habits.

Conversation example:

Bad Habit: You are Bob at work.

Co-worker: Hi Bob, can I talk to you for a second? I am really stressed! Our team is behind on our project and some of the team members are frustrating me right now!

Bob: Why are you letting some of your team members get away with this? (Thinking he is being helpful so he is ready to solve the problem)

Co-worker: (feeling blamed by that question, therefore, feeling more aggravated) Get away with what? ! I am telling you that I just feel stressed and pressured. Things are not going well as I had expected. Never mind, Bob.

Bob: (Scratches his head, dumbfounded and confused. Dismisses the experience out of his mind.)

Good Habit: You are Bob at work.

Co-worker: Hi Bob, can I talk to you for a second? I am really stressed! Our team is behind on our project and some of the team members are frustrating me right now!

Bob: Uh-huh, I hear the frustrations in your voice.

Co-worker: Oh, I am just having such a hard day today. I feel like everything is due all at once and I am kind of panicking about my workload.

Bob: You said that your team members are frustrating you, are they not helping you?

Co-worker: Actually, that is not fair for me to say. It is just one of those days, you know? I am losing my patience today. I have some stuff going on at home. So, anyway thanks for this good talk Bob. I feel better already! I needed to vent.

Bad Habit: You are Bob at home.

Wife: Hi honey, I had a terrible conversation with my cousin today.

Bob: Again, what happened this time?

Wife: (Ignores the jab) I don’t know. He just upsets me and the things that he says sort of trigger me.

Bob: You should just be nice to your cousin. Either that or just don’t answer his calls.

Wife: (feeling aggravated) Are you suggesting that I am not nice or that I need to cut off my cousin?! Forget it. I cannot ever talk to you.

Good Habit: You are Bob at home.

Wife: Hi honey, I had a terrible conversation with my cousin today.

Bob: Oh no, another one of those days huh?

Wife: Yeah, you know my cousin. He is just gullible and is always being taken advantage of by his girlfriend.

Bob: It has to be hard for you to see him struggle like that.

Wife: Thanks for understanding honey and yes, it is a struggle. But he is a grown man. It just makes me upset that I can’t seem to help him.

Bob: Yeah, I hear that.

**These may seem like insignificant conversations, but over time, the bad habits will inevitably wear others down, taxing your relationships. Alternatively, good conversations build healthy relationships and enhance your character.

New You. It could take six months to a year to completely rid yourself of these bad habits. Remember, these are deeply embedded bad habits that you have practiced and learned your entire life. Do not worry about the length of time this process will take. The important questions to answer are: “What am I losing if I don’t change? Do I want to be the same person with the same bad habits?”

Replacing your bad habits with good habits can radically change your life and improve your career path. You are as young today as you will ever be and old enough to read and understand this concept now. So why not start today? The first step is to recognize that this process is possible. Upon completion, you will have re-invented yourself. This process offers skills that will continue to be valuable throughout your life. Persevere and you will succeed. And when you succeed, make sure that you celebrate your success! You will have invented a new you.

Written by

Leadership & Executive Coach


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