Transforming a Bad Relationship: The Indirect Behavioral Approach


There is good news about your bad relationship: It can be changed.

Mistaken identity is at the core of many bad relationships. Sometimes you are interacting with a person, let’s call her a frienemy, and she simply believes you to be very different than you are. People look for, and find, the actions and behaviors that reinforce their current beliefs and impressions. This wrong impression contributes to miscommunication and can lead to significant relationship trouble. But no matter how long someone has had the wrong impression of you, if you are willing and committed, you can apply effective techniques to change impressions in an existing relationship.

The three techniques are: direct approach, indirect behavioral approach and visual cues. This is part two of a three-part post detailing each technique and when to use it.

Sometimes you have no clue what happened to give your ‘frienemy’ the wrong impression of you. When this is the case, then the indirect behavioral approach can be used to transform the relationship. It involves repeatedly and consistently engaging in obvious behaviors that 1. clearly communicate your intended message and 2. meet your frienemy’s needs.

Of the three change techniques, I personally find this one the most difficult. This technique requires you to tune in to the communication style, preferences and desires of someone that, frankly, is a pain in neck. To effectively alter the relationship, you must over-communicate with actions and behaviors that your frienemy clearly understands and likes. This means doing things that may not come naturally and saying things differently than you usually do – consistently. If the Golden Rule is to treat others the way that you want to be treated, then this approach applies the ‘Platinum Rule:’ Treat others the way they want to be treated.

Unlike the direct approach, which can transform opinion and relationships in an instant, the indirect behavioral approach takes time. How much time depends on the frequency of interactions: It may take one month to change the impression of someone with whom you interact daily; and six months or more for someone you see less frequently to begin to notice you differently. No doubt, it can be hard work to behave differently over a long period of time. But it builds character and if you have to be in a relationship, it is better to make it good.

Using visual cues in conjunction with the indirect behavioral approach helps change impressions and relationships much more quickly.


About Kali Patrice

Kali Patrice is the founder of The Image Studios, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in branding and image communication. She blogs through “Successful Expression” to share fresh ways to share insights about image, personal branding and self-expression.