In this post, we wanted to explore shaping as it applies to our client relationships.
Most trainers are familiar with shaping: building a behaviour through successful approximations. It involves breaking a behaviour down into a series of its smallest, incremental steps. And then marking and rewarding our subject for any successful approximation towards any of these steps.
But what happens when we apply this powerful concept to our clients? Our co-workers? Our loved ones?
It was a few weeks into building a shared frame with our clients, what we call our third frame, that we realized we were using shaping.
By coming to a place where we can respect and understand one another, we begin to hold back our judgement and expectations. And we are better able to reinforce the amazing things (approximations) our clients are doing and trying for the first time.
It isn't realistic to expect our clients to be completely on board with our philosophy or our approach by the end of one or even a few sessions. Instead, we can watch for all the little steps they are taking as approximations towards a happier place.
Hard questions are now an opportunity for reinforcement. They show that our client is stopping to consider the ramifications of whatever it is they are asking about.
A client that has a tendency to speak harshly and in a commanding tone to their dog, which so many of us were trained to do, might suddenly have a harness on their dog when we arrive, and you can darn well bet we are going to notice and reinforce this.
It's not possible to shape every client relationship. We get that. But we've come to realize that much more is possible than we ever imagined and that our behaviour and attitude matters.
As experts, our judgement and tone carry weight. It is super easy for us to use this social pressure to introduce a punisher to our clients. And if there is one thing that will destroy shaping, it is an aversive stimulus.
Students that participate in shaping have a noticeable excitement and joy around training. We want the same for our clients.
And by paying attention and reinforcing the steps our clients are making, and the smaller the better, all of us can shape better relationships for all involved. And that feels super awesome.