It Takes Six to Tango

by | Jul 4, 2015 | Evaluating Behavior

Behavior shifts do not occur in a vacuum.  When two people are interacting and one or both of them experience a change in any emotion, that emotional change often manifests itself with a corresponding change in behavior. It is common for behavioral analysts to derive concrete meaning from these behavior changes.  These concrete evaluations usually involve terms such as “always” and “never”.  It is dangerous to draw such concrete conclusions and much more prudent to evaluate observed behavior within the context of the situation.  This evaluation process includes understanding the six factors that contribute to these behavior shifts.

The Person You Are Observing:  We all have our own personal biographies.  We often relate our current experiences to previous experiences.  If we see or hear something that reminds of a prior experience, our behavior will likely change accordingly.  Some of people are naturally more emotional, anxious or introverted and they’re behavior may shift may start at an earlier threshold then people who are naturally more confident and outgoing.  It is important to recognize that behavior shifts can be unique to each individual.

The Person Observing Behavior:  How we interact with people can have a significant impact on their behavior.  Our tone of voice, gestures, proximity and word choice and all impact the comfort level of people we interact with.  Additionally, our reputation and positions of authority can impact our interactions as well.  It is important to quickly consider any impact we may have had in initiating behavioral shifts we observe.

The Relationship between the Observed and the Observer:  Typically, greater behavior shifts occur when the person observing behavior has a stronger relationship with person they are observing.  This can also be true if the relationship between the two is adversarial.  These relationships often involve stronger emotions, which lead to greater behavior shifts.  If the person being observed has no relationship with, or doesn’t care at all for, the personal they are interacting with there will likely be fewer and weaker shifts in behavior.

The Topic of Conversation:  It is easy to understand that some topics of conversation can be more stressful than others.  It is also important to consider that different topics may be more or less stressful to different people.  A behavior shift can often indicate an emotional reaction to the topic of conversation and these reactions could be positive or negative.

The Perceived Consequences:  How people react has a lot to do with what is on the line.  It could be getting terminated from work, closing an important deal, getting a second date, or maybe disappointing a loved one.  The real potential consequences associated with the outcome of the conversation are not as important as the perceived consequences associated with the outcome of the conversation.  People’s behavior will shift in accordance with what they think the consequences could be.

The Surrounding Environment:  What is going on around a conversation can have a significant behavioral impact on the people participating in it.  If there is bright sunshine for flashing lights it may affect some one’s ability to maintain eye contact.  The temperature of the room may cause some one to shiver or start to sweat.  An often-overlooked factor is other people in the area.  You may observe a behavior shift that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with another person walking by.

When you witness a shift in behavior during a conversation don’t jump to a quick conclusion about what that behavior shift represents.  Ask yourself the following questions before arriving at your decision:

  • What do I know about his/her background?
  • How was I interacting with him/her?
  • How could our relationship affect his/her response?
  • What was the topic of discussion?
  • What could his/her perceived consequences be in relation to the topic?
  • Were there any environmental factors that could have stimulated the behavior shift?

After answering these questions you will arrive at more educated and accurate conclusions that will provide you with greater insight into the conversation and greater opportunities to connect.


Michael Reddington, CFI is an executive resource, the president of InQuasive, Inc. and the creator of the Disciplined Listening Method. He teaches leaders from all industries and specialties how to apply strategic, ethical persuasion techniques in all of their conversations. To learn more contact Michael directly at +1 (704) 256-7116 or