I FIRST studied human behaviour change when I was a nurse, working with people to help them learn what they could do to contribute to their own wellbeing. I’d seen the folk who in spite of all the evidence that it was making their breathing worse, continued to smoke. When I was having radiotherapy for breast cancer, I was distressed and if I’m honest, angry, to see people smoking outside the cancer centre. Experience taught me that getting angry, frustrated or exasperated didn’t help; and it didn’t help them or indeed me.

In the Cycle of Change model by Prochaska and Diclemente – see below – you can see that people change their minds and behaviour over time and through a process.

The National:

And therefore what we do when we try to engage people to change their minds on something as crucial as the independence of their country has to be targeted to where they are on cycle of change or we can increase resistance and switch off engagement.

Our reaction to situations like political crisis or change or even health crisis will depend on our current world or personal view.

We are all at different stages of change and therefore react differently – but what’s important is to understand this is not static and eventually change will happen with the right approach and support.

So what have I learned over the years that can help us at this time of great disruption and change in society and in particular here in Scotland in our desire for independence?

Three key points are worth building on:

  • Be the change you want to see
  • Don’t argue, inspire and pattern hope through stories of a better future
  • Focus on the positive stories of change

Change does and can happen but it takes time – and different approaches and stories.

Understanding yourself and your own story is a good place to start. What values would you want to see evident in a future Scotland? Perhaps Scotland would be a fairer nation, a compassionate nation, a creative one or an entrepreneurial one. Whatever it is, it’s your authentic connection to that belief not just through words but through action that people will connect with. Role modelling your desired way of being within your community, your work place, or even your family will help others be more be likely to connect with you and your beliefs. People follow people, and it’s through connection we shift our vision of our world.

Our greatest skill here is our ability to listen (remember two ears, one mouth, use accordingly!).

And I don’t mean just listening to respond – or waiting until you can deliver your counter argument.

We should listen with an intention to understand, to acknowledge and respect the right to a different opinion. We should respect their right to be fearful of change, or hesitant because they want to protect a family or pension.

Show you are willing to hear, to understand and even to move in your own thinking. Roll with resistance don’t fight it and you will get to a different place. If we all are prepared to open our minds we will get closer to a shared possible future.

Patterning hope will also be part of this process. Show positive stories where change is already happening, where we are already forging new paths as a nation that we can all be proud of.

People ask for facts because they want certainty – which we can’t honestly offer – but we can show the evidence of well-constructed plans, of a positive vision and of patterns already in place that build the stepping stones to that.

Hope and trust need to be fostered and invested in by us all.

So if you want a kinder Scotland, be kind. If you want a Scotland that cares then be willing to invest in care and carers too. If you want a more equal Scotland be prepared to share (through formal means like tax and other informal means too).

If you want a greener Scotland get on your bike. If you want Scotland to lead on human rights then build that into your policies and practice now.

If you want a more mindful Scotland, as I do, then be mindful and bring that practice into what you do. And if you want a more compassionate Scotland then you know what you need to do.

I often quote Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

We can have the kind of Scotland we want to see and some of that we can and should start now.

That’s why it’s crucial we talk about good communication at the SIC on Saturday, November 4 and I’m very pleased and honoured to being part of this event, Building Bridges.

Audrey Birt is a coach and consultant and will be delivering a presentation at Saturday’s Build2 conference on using effective language to persuade people.