Two perspectives on how to change behaviour

An interesting piece on approaches on behavioral change can be found in a book titled “Coaching in Depth: The Organizational Role Analysis Approach” by John Newton, Susan Long, Burkard Sievers. I haven’t read the entire book but was sent pages 18-19 by a colleague. The section compares psychology to a systems [more specifically, role analysis] perspective – the table (below) is particularly interesting.



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  • “Psychology focuses upon the individual, while systems focus upon the relations and rules governing roles.”
  • “Psychology tends to segregate the individual, while systems thinking integrates”
  • “Psychology attempts to deal with groups and organizations as the sum total of many personalities” in contrast, “a system is an set of relations with a boundary, having rules developed over time…. the system defines the roles and the individuals take up the roles, refining and defining the role further”

The different approaches are illustrated in the table below:

Behaviour is a function of character or personality Behaviour is a function of role definition and relation
Personality or character formed by nature and nurture Role defined by system and individual interaction
Actions grounded in character Actions grounded in systems rules and relations
Change in behaviour requires personality / character change Change in behaviour requires redefining role, rules and relations
Change is difficult and long term Change is challenging, but swift and effective

Can’t these approaches be combined?

The section of the book presents the two perspectives in opposition. An alternative is to regard them a complimentary – by combining the two perspectives it would be possible to create a change process that focuses on people’s values and beliefs but also creates an enabling context by redefining roles, rules and relations.


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