This is an exercise adapted from cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, which are traditionally used to help people identify and change “faulty” thinking patterns. It can be very useful for helping a team become more aware of the impact of their thoughts, feelings and behavior on themselves and their customers.
Split your team into pairs and ask them to discuss the last time they experienced feeling angry, overwhelmed, upset, or a similar emotion. Give them 5 minutes to share stories.
Draw up the thoughts / feelings / behavior cycle on a whiteboard or flipchart and explain that the three influence each other. The cycle can continue or get worse if none of these three things change.
Give an example: Imagine that you need to give a presentation to a group of colleagues. If this makes you feel quite nervous, this could feed thoughts that you will mess up the presentation, which on the day will make you appear anxious and therefore more likely to fail – which then sets a precedent for you to feel even more anxious about presenting in the future. On the other hand, if you feel like this is a welcome challenge, you will probably be thinking that this is a welcome challenge and on the day, be well prepared and ready to dazzle your colleagues, which will give you confidence if you encounter this situation again.
Ask the team, in their pairs, how the situation they identified before impacted their thoughts and behavior. Ask them also to consider how this would have been perceived by others around them. Give them a few minutes to discuss this.
Bring the team back together and ask them to share some of their observations.
Pose a question to the group:
- How do you think this cycle works for customers who are angry? (The group will probably be able to identify that feelings of upset and thoughts around how difficult their situation could be to resolve could feed a more negative reaction. They might also be able to point out that customers who have had bad customer service experiences in the past might be more likely to react badly to a problem, than those who have overall had positive past experiences.)
- Ask the team which area of the cycle is easiest to change, in order to break out of the cycle? Take some guesses. Then, position to them that research has shown that behavior is the easiest area to change – almost a “Fake it ‘till you make it” approach. Practicing alternative behaviors when you are feeling negative can be the easiest or quickest way to change your thoughts and feelings.
In the example we gave before, if you’re worried about presenting but you choose to “face the fear and do it anyway”, you might concentrate on taking opportunities to practice your presentation ahead of time, even if you don’t like the thought of it initially. This would boost your confidence and go a long way towards helping you think more positively and feel better about the presentation.