I sat down to carefully consider the message. Delivery would be everything. Even though I loved him dearly, he had a problem. One that needed to be addressed collectively, by all of us, or change wouldn't be possible. I had to make everyone see the error of their enabling ways. You see, Bandit had an overeating problem and he simply wasn't interested in addressing it. Bandit was my cat friend and he loved to eat.
Years ago, my husband and I lived in an apartment complex in Louisiana. Bandit had the freedom to roam and explore the coulee nearby. He also became the mascot for one end of the complex, beloved by many of the ladies who lived there. They would slip him treats when they thought I wasn't looking. I'd told them repeatedly to not feed him as he was getting too large. But, they ignored me.
Being a communication professional, I knew that choosing my message location would be critical. Before and after photos should do the trick. I put of a sign on the wall of the laundry room where it would be seen by everyone, eventually.
Not much changed other than the ladies getting better at hiding their activities from me. I wasn't connecting with my audience effectively.
One day, I spied one of the worst offenders letting Bandit out of her apartment as I was headed to work. I was done. I marched up to her, intending to give her a good tongue lashing about my cat being my cat, when I saw the look on her face. She hadn't yet seen me, and she was looking at Bandit with great feeling. It hit me then. She loved him, too.
I recalibrated my message as I got closer. Commands and demands wouldn't work. We know through a great deal of research that these are the worst approaches when trying to change behavior. In fact, many people dig in when confronted with such messaging.
Bandit's friend looked fearful when she saw me approach. She needed a reason to stop feeding Bandit other than my continued demands. I began by acknowledging our shared our love for the animal. I noted how afraid I was that he would die too soon. I shared that I got him as a kitten in college, and he'd moved with me wherever I went. I simply didn't want anything bad to happen to him. She smiled and we returned to our days.
I never saw her feed him again. Somehow the message went out to the others and they didn't do it anymore. But they didn't cut Bandit off. When we moved to Colorado some time later, Bandit received a postcard from his old buddies at the complex. They wrote to say that they would be attending something called the Bolder Boulder in about a month or so. Would he like a visit they inquired? I called the number written on the card, and assured them all that Bandit would love a visit. "We just want to make sure he's okay," she said.
It was only when everyone understood why it was important for Bandit, not me, to not feed him that we made progress. When they understood that it was to his benefit to ignore his pitiful whining we began working together on something that mattered to us all.
If you are engaged in trying to change or impact the behavior of others, it's important to remember what works. Demands don't work. Commands don't work. Stories that focus on what we share in common - that works.
Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising.
She may be reached at 303-651-6612; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.