could an odd couple buddy system help change behavior?

May 28, 2010

in wellness

i’m not sure how the thought came to me, but while i was working on something else, i suddenly wondered: given how our social networks influence, could a buddy system pairing tobacco users with non-tobacco users work?

naturally, what did i do? i tweeted it out. and immediately got two responses.

tobacco non tobacco

a buddy system is an old approach to lots of things: getting acclimated to a new organization, learning on the job, getting to the gym. what if we revamped it a bit and used an “odd couple” buddy approach? when i say odd couple, i’m, of course, referring to felix and oscar. one was delightfully messy, the other insanely neat. they didn’t rub off on one another, but could an odd couple pairing help change behavior in ways different from a like-to-like one?  can they operate without the “i’ve been through what you’re going through” understanding that makes someone open to advice?

here’s my initial thinking:

1. we’re influenced by our social networks. the book connected talks about how we affect (infect) each other. we imitate behavior and our view of what’s “normal” changes based on who we’re around.

2. when we make a change—think of an addict who quits drug use—we often need to acquire new friends and new habits to avoid slipping.

3. we like to help others because it makes us feel good. and people who are passionate about exercise, healthy eating, not smoking, and so on like to share this passion with others.

through an odd couple buddy system, could a company:

  • help employees find new behaviors to imitate and change the view of what’s normal?
  • introduce people to other work mates, helping employees build new habits more readily, with a by-product of improved work dynamics?
  • actually create broader ripples of health, since volunteers are happier and healthier individuals?

what do you think? where can we go with this?


Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hebert May 28, 2010 at 7:18 am

This would be very effective – assuming the “smoker” wants to change behavior… our response to social pressure is strong and well documented.

I know you’re focused on the wellness angle here but this is also the core of mentoring programs for any performance objective… put those who want with those who can and do and you up more people who want, can and do.


fran May 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm

paul, forest for the trees, right?! great point about this same approach forming the basis of mentoring relationships.



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