• Ross Ritchie

Holding firm when they play up!

Being ‘believable’ is a key quality when it comes to influencing behaviour. When we say something, whether it be communicating the importance of a certain classroom rule or giving someone praise, we are effectively delivering a ‘suggestion’ (we are indicating that something is true in order to impact the beliefs and perceptions of someone else). The more believable we are, the more powerful the suggestion and the greater the impact on the listener. I’m sure you would agree that it is possible for two people to say the same thing yet one of them be more convincing than the other. Why is this? Well it's those micro behaviours we spoke about! If someone is unsure of (or doesn’t truly believe in) what they are saying, their radio waves convey this uncertainty weakening the power of their suggestion. Conversely If someone fully believes in what they are saying, their words form a powerful suggestion which is more likely to impact the beliefs and perceptions of the listener.

I’d like to introduce a very important term in behavioural influence, congruence. I first learnt this term in secondary school during my maths lessons. The teacher pointed to the board and said “Here are two congruent triangles.” The two triangles were positioned at different angles and at opposite corners of the board. She went on to demonstrate that by turning, flipping or sliding these triangles that they actually map on to one another perfectly. They are congruent. The word itself actually means ‘in agreement or harmony’ and can be used in many ways. For example a school’s approach to behaviour could be incongruent. This could be down to mixed messages from leadership or different individuals / departments enacting different ethea (that’s the plural of ‘ethos’ by the way, I had to google that one.). This organisational incongruence then leads to the incongruent behaviour of individuals. For example a teacher wants to challenge a child who is wearing their coat indoors as they know that there is a school rule which states that coats must not be worn indoors. The problem is that it is a bit colder than usual outdoors and the member of staff has seen their colleagues walk past multiple children wearing coats. Despite knowing the rule, the member of staff in question is not actually sure what the genuine expectation or to what degree the school is supportive of this rule due to what has been suggested to them by their environment. The member of staff is then either weak and unconvincing when challenging the child or does not challenge the child at all. They are incongruent.

This post however is not about organisational congruence, there’s plenty of time for that later. This chapter deals with how an individual can become congruent in their day to day communications and therefore more influential.

“Mum can I have my Haribos now please?”

“No we don’t eat sweets before bed, now brush your teeth, get into bed and I'll be up in a moment to read you a story.”

The mother's response here could suggest different things depending on her beliefs, mindset and micro behaviours. It could suggest..

A: We don’t eat sweets before bed. This is an important rule that has not and will not change.


B: I really don’t want you to ask for your sweets as I know you shouldn’t really eat them before bed. I hope you don’t play up because I am saying no but if you do there’s a high chance that i’ll end up giving in or allowing you to have just one because I’m pretty tired at the moment and can’t be doing with the drama.

So let’s say that Jody (the mum in this example) wants to be more congruent in her communication so that her child ‘believes’ her and accepts her response without argument. She could use the Believability Builder and here’s the instruction manual.

Step 1: Be crystal clear in your own mind on the rule, standard or behaviour you wish to promote and uphold.

E.g. “We don’t eat any sweets after 6pm.”

Step 2: Fully connect with the ‘why’ and establish a morally based position.

E.g. Jody takes a moment to think about why she tries to uphold this rule. She reminds herself that foods which are high in sugar are unhealthy and tend to make her child a little hyperactive. She also thinks about the way in which this may affect the quality of her child’s sleep which in turn affects her child’s mood and ability to concentrate and learn effectively at school. She realises that she implements this rule to protect the quality of her child’s health, well-being and education. She begins to feel more congruent.

Step 3: Develop concise language which you can use to justify and bolster your position if required when challenged.

E.g. Jody knows that she has a stock response which she can articulate confidently if required. This is useful as not only does it further increase her confidence and congruence but it also provides an explanation which is beneficial to the child making the rule far more difficult to challenge. Jody chose the following language “Your health and well-being is the single most important thing to me because I love you. Sweets are unhealthy and eating them at this time will affect the quality of your sleep. For your own benefit I simply will not allow it. Now up to bed please.”

Step 4: Decide to make your rule, standard or expected behaviour an extension of your moral fibre and integrity.

E.g. As Jody becomes more acquainted with the idea that banning sweets after 6pm is actually supporting one of her highest values (the health and well-being of her child) she resolves never to compromise this rule again. She feels that by doing so that she would not only be cheating her child but also herself and the very values that she stands for. She now feels even more congruent and fully believes in the rule she has set.

Step 5: Be comfortable and accepting of the fact that ‘Rapport may break when values are at stake

E.g. We’ll come back to Jody in a moment. I need to riff a little bit as this is crucial. In an ideal world we would always be able uphold our standards and expectations whilst maintaining a positive rapport with the child. Us both walking away happy after the exchange is always the aim. But what if the child (and this can and will happen), despite your congruence, simply refuses to accept your boundary and embarks on a relentless attempt to break your resolve by sulking and insisting that you are unfair? This is a strategy by the way that the child may have used at home to great effect since they were two years old... Will you have failed? Will you have somehow not used the PEG principle effectively to promote and maintain positive relationships? Allow me to answer that with a big fat no and tell you in no uncertain terms that this is OK. You have not failed in your attempts to influence behaviour effectively and the child is not bad, it’s just that their environment up to this point whether it be at home or at school has suggested to them that this rule need not apply and that by using emotional leverage they can have things their way. They seek to hold onto the PEGs they subconsciously enjoyed of freedom and control. Your intention of course is to replace these PEGs, but this will be done on your terms and in response to more constructive behaviours. The PEG based strategies in coming posts will make defiance of this kind infinitely less likely but in actual fact delivering PEGs such as security and certainty through assertively upholding your standards and expectations in an unwavering and self assured manner is a key part of the overall PEG principle. I’m a behavioural influence specialist yet I have had countless exchanges with students which have ended with the child walking off in a strop and telling me that i’m out of order. Funnily enough these are the children that I often end up having the deepest and most respectful rapport with. Despite being disappointed in the moment, they believe me, they respect the fact that I respect myself and my values, they also detect strength and emotional robustness (leadership qualities) and end up ‘following me through the forest’(see previous post). I am making this point because experiencing a nervousness and being too tentative through fear of not keeping a child ‘onside’ reduces our congruence and believability. This is why sticking to the rules which support our values and being comfortable and accepting of the fact that rapport may break when values are at stake allows us to maintain a calm, confident and congruent state increasing the likelihood of a compliant response in the first place.

Ok so back to Jody. I guess we could say that Jody was so congruent in her message that her child accepted her response immediately and without argument, but where’s the fun in that? Jody’s child became angry and a little red in the face. He frowned and demanded an explanation “Why!?” he shouted. Jody calmly responded “Your health and well-being is the single most important thing to me because I love you. Sweets are unhealthy and eating them at this time will affect the quality of your sleep. For your own benefit I simply will not allow it. Now up to bed please.” Her son wailed at the top of his voice and stamped his feet, “You’re mean! He said. Jody maintained her calm, relaxed, secure and self-assured state as she took a sip of her tea and turned her attention back to her book. Her son paused as he was momentarily perplexed. He thought for a second and then kicked the living room door before sharply looking up at her, his lower jaw was jutting out bearing his bottom teeth as he stared at her with furious tear filled eyes anticipating her reaction. “Come on, up to bed.” she said in a calm and content tone before taking a bite of her biscuit and once again refocusing her attention on her book. Her son yelled “You’re horrible! I want to go to dad’s!” He then stormed up the stairs and slammed his bedroom door.

Although Jody felt that this exchange was unfortunate and somewhat unpleasant she knew that she was doing the best thing for her child. Not only was she upholding a rule which protected his health but she was also providing him with a strong role model who does not compromise their standards, expectations or state in the face of fear, challenge or emotional pressure. Her son now believes her when she says “No sweets after 6pm” furthermore he believes that his mum is someone who stays true to their values and cannot be emotionally manipulated into behaving otherwise. This provides him with the security and care that many children subconsciously crave.

I realise that in this post, I have narrowed the concept of congruence to a scenario where we are enforcing a rule so i’d like to reiterate that the idea of ‘truly believing in what you are saying’ or ‘achieving a sense of congruence in your beliefs, words and behaviour’ is widely applicable. We can be congruent when telling someone what’s great about them or even just voicing our opinion on a certain matter.

Action: Try out the Believability Builder! Think of a specific rule, expectation or viewpoint that you would like to uphold or express effectively. Perhaps one where you would usually experience a degree of resistance from someone around you. This could be your partner, child or even a class that you teach. Go through the steps in this post to become more congruent and see how it affects the style of your communication and the response you receive.