Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Of course you can, but the old dog has to want to learn them!

But then isn’t personality set? Well roughly yes, and from a pretty early age; personality is the result of the interaction between genetic conditions and environmental conditions and can be represented in this way: P = (GxE). This means that from an early age our personalities are set and basically don’t change. Sure I can provide lots of clinical data to back up this assertion but hey just go to a school reunion! Sure they may be balder or fatter but they are just the same, aren’t they?

Behaviour on the other hand is a result of the interaction between personality and situation and can be represented in this way: B = (PxS). Therefore change the situation and we are all capable of modifying our behaviour, to a greater or lesser extent. And this makes it difficult to hide behind the genetics argument because if we choose we can change our behaviour. This also means there are no such things as personality clashes, or any reason why we can’t choose a different path.

In his book ‘Life at the bottom’ Theodore Dalrymple confronts a drugs user who claims: “It’s not my fault I am easily led.” Theodore replies: “Then how come you haven’t been easily led to conjugating Latin verbs, or to study higher Maths?” You see we like the determinism argument (ie that every event is the inevitable consequence of previous conditions) when it suits us.

I think the deeper issue is to find a reason why someone would want to change; and that is far more difficult. I have no problem with the person who says: ‘I’m happy how I am, I understand the negative consequences of not changing and I accept them.’ But I rarely hear that. What I hear are the rationalising arguments: ‘it’s not my fault,’ ‘that’s just how I am made,’ ‘I can’t change now, it’s too late,’ ‘my personality is set!’

So how do you get someone to change? Back to our old dogs, they need to want to change. As Confucius said ‘change is a door that can only be opened from the inside,’ (mind you he also said ‘experience is a comb given to a bald man.’) So it is usually up to us to find the reasons - and there are so many (as many as there are people). A few examples:

  • ‘Altruism,’ (ie it is the right thing to do)
  • ‘Improve your stock,’ (ie if you improve it will be better for your people and you’ll be better thought of as a leader within the organization)
  • ‘These are career-limiting behaviours’ (ie we’ll sack you if you don’t improve)
  • ‘Odd one out’ (ie everyone else in the team is showing progression and you’re not)
  • ‘Look at him’ (ie point to the tangible benefits in someone else)
  • ‘Cementing’ (ie keep on doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep on getting what you’re getting, you’ll become known for the behaviours and so will keep getting the same old projects/tasks)
  • ‘It will make life easier’ (appeal to laziness)

Often the most difficult issue is convincing folks development isn’t about changing what is intrinsically you, it isn’t about taking things away but adding to your armoury, and it will give you a greater array of choices, options and dimensions. The Latin root of the word ‘education’ is ‘e-ducato,’ which means ‘leading out.’ So it is not about trying to be like someone or something else (not possible nor desirable) or cramming your head full of the latest consultant’s nonsense; it is about bringing out the best in you, ie becoming a better version of you.