Understanding the Stages of Change


An Article by David Cory, MA

Most people don’t take the EQ-i or other assessments expecting to change their lives. As training, coaching, and employee development professionals, the role of facilitating change is exactly our goal. We don’t want people to come and experience our development initiatives and then carry on doing what they’ve been doing. We want them to change, but we often don’t think carefully enough about what individuals must go through to make positive changes in their lives. This is where “The Stages of Change Model” (Prochaska, Norcross, DiClemente, 1994) can be a very useful tool to remind us to diagnose where a client is in the change process so we can provide the right kind of support at the right time.

The Stages of Change

  1. Pre-contemplation – The person hasn’t thought about making a change yet
  2. Contemplation – The person is thinking about it, but unsure how to proceed
  3. Preparation – The person is choosing between alternative courses of action to formulate a plan
  4. Action – The person is implementing of the plan to change
  5. Maintenance – The person is working to maintain new behaviors
  6. Termination – The person is no longer necessary to work at maintaining new behaviors 

EQ Coaching using the Stages of Change

Once you’ve determined a client is in the Pre-contemplation stage about improving their EQ, your job as a coach is to create the awareness of the need for change. EQ-i scores can assist with this task. A manager might be making their numbers, but increasingly alienating direct reports and not making the connection between their behaviors can damage relationships. The coach will link the negative issues that the client is experiencing with the emotional intelligence skill deficits to raise awareness of the need for change.

A client in the stage of Contemplation needs to make a commitment to making a change before they can proceed to the next stage. The EQ-i reports detail and support their manager’s observations of the connection between their behavior and the damaged relationships. This can conclude in thoughts about making a change, but it is uncertain if they can change or even if they want to make the effort. The coaching professional will focus on how the benefits would outweigh the costs to the client by increasing their EQ.

In the Preparation stage, a client along with the coach will need to consider all the possible ways of making the required changes and reducing these to achievable steps toward developmental goals. These steps and goals become the ‘action plan’ for EQ development, and they should include reviewing the interactions between the EQ-i scales and subscales.

In the Action stage, the coach supports the client in making behavioral changes in reference to his or her EQ-i. Starting with small, safe, and supported changes and moving to larger, ‘bigger risk’ changes. The ‘baby steps’ will draw the client closer towards the developmental goals outlined in the action plan and EQ-i report.

The stage of Maintenance helps to remind the client that they will ‘cycle back’ or relapse into old behaviors, and that this is an acceptable and even necessary part of the change process. It offers the coach and client opportunities for learning more about triggers for old behaviors. Also, it gives an even greater awareness of how and why the client drifts back into old behaviors to reduce the likelihood in future. To further evaluate the changes or “non changes” in behavior, the client is advised to repeat the EQ-i assessment. Since emotional intelligence is a dynamic, the latter assessment results can be compared to the first one to understand the client’s progress.

The stage of Termination suggests that there will be a time in the change process when the client need not work at ‘maintaining’ the change as the client will eventually become ‘unconsciously competent’ as regards the new desired behaviors.

Putting it into Practice

An example of how the ‘Stages of Change Model’ has helped me in my own coaching work is a time when I was speaking with a manager about improving his relationships with his direct reports. After sharing more of his thoughts and emotions, I was puzzled that he could not relate to a conversation about an action plan to address this situation. Then, I realized that he was still in contemplation about the change itself, and he had not yet made a commitment to making the change. Hence, I had to go back to the previous stage and focus on the benefits to him personally and to the organization until he was ready to make a commitment before moving on to a discussion of the action plan for change. 

The benefits to using the ‘Stages of Change Model’ in your client work help you to:

  • Remind yourself as a coach to be patient with your client
  • Understand that the changes are ‘client dependent’
  • Facilitate understanding and acceptance
  • Reduce the likelihood of you getting ahead of your client
  • Allow you to offer coaching that matches the client’s readiness for change

For more information on the Stages of Change Model, see the book Changing for Good by Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, 1994.

About David Cory

David Cory is the President and founder of The Emotional Intelligence Training Company Inc. (EITC). David is a leadership performance consultant specializing in individual and organizational performance improvement. In addition to a Master of Arts Degree in Adult Education, David is certified as a trainer/facilitator with several leading corporate training companies such as Achieve Global and Development Dimensions International. He is a Certified Trainer in the area of Emotional Intelligence with MHS Inc. and is considered to be an international expert on the integration of emotional intelligence and leadership development.

David’s expertise includes:

  • assessment of learning needs;
  • design and delivery of customized performance improvement interventions including the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness skills, leadership skills, presentation skills, and team effectiveness skills;
  • psychometric assessment for recruiting, screening and employee development;
  • facilitating team building and strategic planning sessions;
  • conference and meeting key note presentations, and;
  • executive coaching (one-to-one and group/team).

Also, music has always been a big part of David’s life. Ever since he started singing, he’s been using his musical talent to touch people’s lives. He’s recorded an award-nominated album of original music and has incorporated music into corporate training and speaking to rave reviews.

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