Q: I'm a manager in my 60s and have been reading and attempting to apply your good advice regarding people skills at work. But I find myself...

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Q: I’m a manager in my 60s and have been reading and attempting to apply your good advice regarding people skills at work. But I find myself swimming upstream against my ingrained habits. Is there any way to make it easier for an “old dog” to learn new tricks?

A: Most experts say it takes about 30 days to instill a new habit. I coach my clients to expect this initial learning curve is like a rocket ship trying to get free of the earth’s gravity because it’s the hardest part of launching a new behavior.

Many of the executives I work with are in their 50s and up and all of them eventually learn the new tricks I teach. Here are some ideas that will make changing your accustomed habits easier:

Don’t try to improve all of your interpersonal patterns at once. Make a list of the people problems you find most annoying at work. Now imagine a genie gave you 12 wishes (generous genie, eh?). Which workplace-people issues would you use your wishes on and in what order?

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Now, under each of your 12 wishes, write several habits you want to change to make that wish come true, such as:

• Stop defending myself when my boss makes suggestions. Instead, listen.

• Ask my boss which responsibilities he or she would like me to take over.

Now make yourself a habit-change calendar by writing your goal each month (with your three steps) for each of the next 12 months. Keep your eyes and ears open for resources (books, articles, conversations with mentors) to help you shift your behavior. Keep in mind that you’re not changing who you are; you’re just changing your actions to improve your effectiveness.

A Spanish proverb warns that “Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.” Realize that you’re learning more than a few new habits; you’re also developing confidence in your ability to chose the cobwebs you want to weave to get the work life you deserve, no matter how old you are!

The last word(s)

Q: My last boss told me that I “lacked courage” and should stick with safe jobs. Is courage a quality some people just don’t have?

A: Nobody is born with courage. If you want to develop it, you just need to be willing to feel afraid and slowly increase the number and type of risks you take.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube