Shaping Development

How I Found Behavior Analysis

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I'll never forget the moment when my undergraduate work study supervisor handed me a book and said, "Here, read this. You will enjoy it after growing up in Philadelphia."

The book was Third and Indiana by Steve Lopez, and it came at an interesting time in my life.  I was going to school at a large Philadelphia university and had just been denied admission to the Music School for the second time, so I was feeling pretty lost considering I trained as a classical flutist for most of my life.  I had just enrolled in "An Intro to Psych" class.  It was an honors class, which meant a small intimate class where we would discuss psychology greats and argue about perspectives on the mind.   It was here I was also introduced to BF Skinner's books: Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Walden Two.

After reading Third and Indiana, which introduced me to a side of Philadelphia I knew existed but had not been exposed to (a side that has interestingly been shifted to other sections of the city as sections are gentrified and re-developed--ultimately just shifting the problem instead of addressing it), I wondered how we could help the larger problems of the city such as violence, drug addiction, and the struggle for 14 year olds who should be setting post high school goals versus learning business and social skills on the streets.  

Enter BF Skinner.  After reading Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Walden Two, and debating the possibility of a technology of behavior that could "save the world," and shape cultural development, I drank the Kool Aid.  I was introduced to a professor at Temple who studied with a student of Skinner, and the rest is history.  

Now, I focus on the mission of helping other organizations and people shape development through the principles outlined by BF Skinner.  Though my work has taken me to shape development of ABA therapy programs and businesses, I recently began thinking on how we can go back to the idea of using the technology of behavior to "save the world."  I am interested in cultural change as a whole, starting with my own city and the behaviors that occur on a daily basis.

The biggest question now remains is How?  How do we do this?  I'll explore this in the next few weeks so stay tuned! 

 

References: 

Lopez, S. (1995). Third and Indiana.  Penguin Books

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York, NY, US: Knopf/Random House.

Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two. Oxford, England: Macmillan

 

 

 

How to Shape Development: Changing Our Own Behavior

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"'There is really nothing you must be and there is nothing you must do. There is really nothing you must have and there is nothing you must know. There is really nothing you must become. However, it helps to understand that fire burns, and when it rains, the earth gets wet.'  Whatever you do,  he smiled, there are consequences, nobody is exempt. Then he winked, and bowed and walked away." -Jack Kornfield, Buddhism for Beginners

I have been contemplating these quotes for the last week.  Kornfield in this quote, makes the observation that "whatever you do, there are consequences," which is interesting.  As behavior analysts we examine the behavior of those around us, and analyze both antecedents and consequences--the environmental variables part of the behavioral contingency.  We do this in schools, homes, businesses, sports and fitness, and animal training.  Kornfield, though not a behavior analyst, a Buddhist Monk, links the above discussion with his teacher, who shared the zen saying above.  The zen saying appears to be saying there is "nothing" we MUST do, but we need to be cognizant of the fact that when we do something, there are consequences, just as "fire burns and rain makes the earth wet."

As parents, teachers, and leaders, we are often tasked with changing the behavior of those around us.  It is important to note, however; as Kornfield says "no one is exempt."  As we shape the behavior of those around us, it is important to keep in mind that our behavior is also being shaped by the environmental variables (such as consequences) that occur during the shaping process of those we support.  Oftentimes, we spend time focusing on changing the behavior of others, when sometimes, it is our own behavior that needs to change.  As we create our behavior plans and development plans, we should also be thinking about how we can change our own behavior in the process.

What are some ways we can do this?  Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

 

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How to Dissolve an Argument Like A Pro (Without Raising Your Voice)

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Why is it that we can run through multiple scenarios in our heads to provide perfectly reasonable and calm directives to fellow employees, direct reports, or even our own kids, yet when we are in front of a person who is visibly getting upset, we lose our cool and raise our voice?

It happens to be science….and a vicious social cycle.

Take the following parenting scenario as an example:

Parent: Sorry, Charlie, you can’t have the toy right now.

Charlie: But I really want it now.

Parent: You can play with it later.

Charlie: I WANT IT NOW!

Parent (yelling now): I SAID NO, AND THAT IS ENOUGH!!

Charlie: *cue the waterworks*

In that moment, we have two behaviors occurring, each interacting in a vicious social cycle.  Charlie’s yelling triggers the parent’s yelling, and as soon as the parent’s yelling happens, Charlie’s behavior immediately changes.  In that immediate behavior change, the parent’s behavior has effectively removed Charlie’s yelling from the present environment, and Charlie stopped arguing.  In this vicious social cycle, Charlie’s behavior decreases in the moment, and the parent’s behavior in the future is more likely to increase.  By decreasing Charlie’s yelling, the parent’s yelling is reinforced, and will continue in the future (For more information on this type of reinforcement, known as “negative reinforcement,” and operant conditioning see the following book: The Behavior of Organisms*, Skinner, 1938) ).

Take another example that is a scenario from the workplace:

Direct Report: I’d really like to talk to you about some issues I’ve been having with the project.

Manager/Supervisor: Sure, Tom, tell me what is going on?

Direct Report: I do not feel I have the support I need from management for resources needed to complete the project.

Manager/Supervisor (immediately defensive): Why not?!  We gave you three weeks to work on the project, and approved discretionary spending to get it done.  This is due in two days and you are telling me this now?!

Direct Report (raising voice): THIS IS NOT MY FAULT.  I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THIS THING FOR 60-80 HOURS A WEEK THE LAST TWO WEEKS AND I JUST CAN’T DO IT ANYMORE!

Manager/Supervisor (yelling): THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.  EITHER COMPLETE THE PROJECT, OR YOU CAN SEE YOURSELF OUT OF THIS OFFICE!

Direct Report: *storms out of the office*

Again, two behaviors are interacting!  The Direct Report is coming to the Manager with a problem, setting up for a stressful situation, and the Manager/Supervisor appears to feel attacked.  The Manager raises their voice, yells at the direct report, and there is an immediate change in behavior with the direct report storming out of the office.  This likely increases the manager’s behavior of yelling at direct reports in the future because of this experience, and again, his behavior is reinforced.

In either of these scenarios, has Charlie or Tom, the direct report, learned anything?  No.   The parent and manager, however; have “learned” that in the future, when presented with an aversive condition (child yelling or direct report complaining), they just need to yell, and that aversive condition will decrease.

So what can we do instead?  My suggestion is to keep calm, and shape development.

How do we do this?

First, when Charlie starts to yell, the parent can calmly provide him with an alternative, effectively teaching him to “accept no.”  Here is the example:

Parent: Sorry, Charlie, you can’t have the toy right now.

Charlie: But I really want it now.

Parent: You can play with it later.

Charlie: I WANT IT NOW!

Parent (calmly): Charlie, how about instead of the toy, we do _______ instead?

Hopefully, Charlie agrees.  If not, the parent may have to provide a few more alternatives than the original.

Here’s an example for the workplace:

Direct Report: I’d really like to talk to you about some issues I’ve been having with the project.

Manager/Supervisor: Sure, Tom, tell me what is going on?

Direct Report: I do not feel I have the support I need from management for resources to complete the project.

Manager/Supervisor (calmly): I see.  Why do you feel like you need more support and resources?

Direct Report (getting upset): I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THIS THING FOR 60-80 HOURS A WEEK THE LAST TWO WEEKS AND I JUST CAN’T DO IT ANYMORE!

Manager/Supervisor (calmly): Ok, I understand that is frustrating.  How can we problem solve this together so we can complete the project, and you do not feel so burned out?

Direct Report (calmly):  Well….(continues problem solving with manager)

Obviously, it is not always this simple, and sometimes it takes perseverance for the parent and manager to maintain a calm voice in the discussion.  However, by sticking to this strategy, and keeping calm, we can shape the development of those around us as well as ourselves.

*Please Note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. 

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