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Behaviorism in coaching


Disciplines > Coaching > Schools of thought > Behaviorism in coaching

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Behaviorism is a early school of psychology that pays particular attention to cause and effect in the way we behave, particularly in the way that reinforcement acts to condition our unconscious reflexes and reactions.

In coaching, it is useful in discovering the ways the subject has been conditioned by their contexts, their history and by the people around them. More serious cases can lead to limiting behavior that reduces the person's chance of success in life and work as they react rather than move purposively and by conscious choice.

The person may also be coached in using behaviorism appropriately, avoiding destructive reinforcement that leads others to behave in undesirable ways and using stimuli that leads to positive and desirable actions.

ABC analysis is a useful way not only of analyzing a problem but also bringing your client along with you -- the tables used make cause and effect much easier to see and hence address.


An executive who has been using what he considers as a 'firm hand' is shown how this leads to sanitized reporting and avoidance of truth-telling. He learns to change the reinforcements he uses to more positive methods. In this way a more effective and collaborative workplace is created.

A parent who sometimes gets angry at a mischievous child learns how they are causing confusion as the child seeks attention. They learn to ignore poor behavior (causing extinction) and reward the right actions. The child's behavior improves significantly.


Behaviorism started with Pavlov and his experiments with dogs and the subsequent development of Classical Conditioning. This was developed further by B.F. Skinner in Operant Conditioning, where the effects of reinforcement drive different and often undesirable behaviors.

More recently, much research has focused on how we interact with others, for example in Bandura's Social Learning Theory.

Misunderstanding of reinforcement and punishment is a typical problem, where a person believes that punishment will stop others doing the wrong thing. People may also underestimate the anxiety caused by irregular and unpredictable reinforcement. Learning to be consistent in stimulating can be very effective in creating consistent desirable responses.

See also

A brief history of Behaviorism, Conditioning


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