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Human Skills
Human Skills


Behaviour Breeds Behaviour - David Tebbutt 


Do you dread some meetings? Whether one-to-one or in a group, do you just know that they’re going to waste your time? You know it will take ages to achieve the desired results, assuming it even gets to that point?


Why is it then that you look forward to other meetings and encounters? The answer probably lies in the behaviour of the participants, interesting subject matter and clear objectives. It’s not just a meeting for a meeting’s sake, which often seems to be the case.


Having a meeting without objectives is insane and can be easily fixed. But what about behaviour? Have you ever thought about improving the dynamics of a meeting by deliberately changing your behaviour? Obviously, it helps if you’re leading the meeting, but you can do it anyway. The trick is to be able to parse and categorise the behaviour of the other people. Once you have a clear handle on how they’re behaving and whether it’s leading towards or away from the meeting’s objectives, then you can modify your own actions and responses and bring about an echoing change in their own behaviour. They may not even realise you’re doing it. They may leave the meeting feeling good, without knowing why.


Psychologist and business advisor Peter Honey taught me the basics of behaviour shaping early in my second career. We were in contact a few months ago when I asked him whether he thought behavioural skills were part of everyone’s life toolkit these days. He replied, “In my opinion (but I would say this wouldn't I?) behavioural skills are still in short supply and are certainly not 'part of everyone's life toolkit these days'.” He added, “However, the problem is the same as it ever was – namely, that since everyone behaves they tend to take it for granted (rather like breathing) and fail to understand the mechanics of how 'behaviour breeds behaviour'.”


When we first met, some 40 years ago, he’d reflected on over 50 behaviour types and selected a core set of nine that are commonly encountered in professional meetings. (They occur in personal encounters as well, by the way.) He analysed, over many meetings, what responses were most likely for each behaviour. Some would move a meeting forward, others would have little impact and others could threaten to stop or divert it. For example, two behaviours are Propose and Suggest. They both have the same intent but each triggers different reactions. Propose is assertive – “Let’s do this” – while Suggest is inherently more collaborative – “Shall we do this?”


Other behaviours in the set include Difficulty Stating, Seeking Clarification and Building. At least two of Peter’s books – Face to Face and Improve your People Skills – go into the details. He discusses other behaviours such as Summarising, Humour and Seeking agreement but doesn’t include them in the core nine, although they do have their uses.


Peter’s teaching led me down all sorts of highways and byways of the observable behaviour world – Transactional Analysis in particular – especially in my early years as a trainer. His teachings and my other studies helped me form a core set of behavioural skills that have served me very well through my subsequent parallel careers in management, editing, writing and teaching.


While you might be tempted to get into the deeper psychology that underpins peoples’ behaviour, I believe this is dangerous in the wrong hands and should be left to the experts. However, you may find that understanding and practising the core principles – the observable tip of the behavioural iceberg – would stand you in very good stead in your future important encounters. They are so effective, they’ll quickly become second nature.


Needless to say, I’d be more than happy to help you.


Behaviour really does breed behaviour. Thank you, Peter.




There’s a hole in the middle of my meeting - David Tebbutt


It would be easy to assume that, because meetings have been around since the year dot, we have become quite slick at planning them, running them and following up afterwards. Yet, the very word “meeting” invokes a shudder in many people who are obliged to attend them.


Yet it’s not difficult to find out what goes wrong in meetings or, conversely, how to make things go right. Yes, it requires some thought and skill, but it is not beyond the wit of even the most average employee to grasp the basics. A typical ‘How to run a meeting’ guide might look like this:


1.    Know why you’re having a meeting
2.    Define objectives and measures of success
3.    Create a realistically timed agenda
4.    Make sure you get and brief the right attendees, so they come prepared
5.    Choose the meeting style (e.g. explanatory, collaborative or consultative) and stick to it
6.    Check the facilities in advance
7.    Manage participants’ involvement
8.    Manage the agenda timing
9.    Record important points and actions (including postponements)
10.    Follow through


Most meeting organisers will follow similar guidelines themselves. But many guides gloss over the ‘how’ of the behavioural skills that are vital to the success of point 7 above and, to a lesser extent, point 8. Each participant brings their own behavioural repertoire and it’s for the leader to interpret them and choose the behaviours that will best facilitate the meeting’s objectives.


What would make meetings even better would be if the participants themselves also understood the principles of effective behaviour. Then everyone would be singing in harmony, so to speak. And they’d all look forward to meetings, knowing they’ll achieve real results and they won’t be wasting their time.


Successful Interactions training takes less than a day and arms delegates for the rest of their career. They will be able to participate skilfully and constructively in any kind of meeting, with colleagues or strangers (and, it has to be said, with family and friends). The training is based on three models – Behaviour Shaping, Ego States and Life Positions. Some of these might sound familiar to you. The important thing is that this training is pragmatically focused entirely on observable behaviour. This makes it easy to learn, easy to put into practice and, if exercised regularly, it soon becomes second nature.


Interaction skill, I believe, is the missing heart of meeting skills training. Given that all meetings are comprised of people, it does rather seem a surprising omission. 



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