Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Donald Duck Cure

Building on Stories that Change People, the following is an example of a paradoxical intervention (encouraging clients to exaggerate a behavior).

Greg had been promoted to management as a reward for his technical know-how. Creative and bright, he was experienced at resolving problems by himself and had no models for how to encourage others. In particular, instead of coaching team members in private Greg criticized them openly in team meetings. They had recently been his peers, and found this humiliating.

When I gave Greg this feedback, he understood why they felt embarrassed, but insisted he had no control over his behavior: "It just comes over me!"

Knowing how much he loved his young daughters, I asked if the same thing happened with them. "No," he replied, "they're really fun to be around and easy to teach. I love playing with them and showing how things work." He said their happiest times were spent watching Saturday morning cartoons together.

I asked Greg to look for a cartoon that depicted aggressive behavior, "putting someone down" and we'd talk about it in our next session. I expected coyote and road-runner, but Greg described Donald Duck's nephews building a snowman at the bottom of a hill, only to have Donald zoom down on his sled and break up the snowman, laughing (quacking) and laughing (quacking). After several attempts, the nephews built a snowman around blocks of cement. This time when Donald ran into the snowman, he was flattened and stars appeared over his head (in that fun way of cartoons).

"So, Greg," I suggested, "since you can't stop criticizing team members at meetings, just keep on doing what you're doing, but take a second as you deliver the message to imagine yourself as Donald Duck quacking to his nephews."

His problem behavior spontaneously disappeared.

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