Pragmatism and Playing Well with Others

Many applied behavior analysts find themselves in a different world from that in which they were trained. Most are trained by other behavior analysts in programs or even departments where the principal worldview is that of behavior analysis. Fast forward a couple of years (or more) and many of those same people find themselves in multidisciplinary settings, working with people who not only have different specialty areas—for example, medicine, rehabilitation therapy, social work—but, more importantly, a totally different way of looking at problems, both conceptually and methodologically. Such a setting is made to shape cooperative behavior among people who don’t necessarily agree on the etiology or treatment of the problems the team is charged with addressing. Indeed, some of these approaches are not only antithetical to the conceptual foundations of behavior analysis, but some of the practitioners are downright hostile to our worldview and problem-solving approach. So, what’s a behavior analyst to do? Here is a modest list of suggestions.

First, take a deep breath.

Secondremember that above all, behavior analysis is steeped in pragmatism, which means, for the individual, working usefully. Your reason for being on the team is to solve a problem, provide services, and help, not proselytize for your specialty area and in so doing become an obstacle to treatment progress. In About Behaviorism (1974, p. 186) Skinner observed the following: “The culture of the therapist should lead him in ways which are good for the person he is helping.” Hard to argue with that position, but it also is a reminder that others with different points of view are trying to follow Skinner’s observation and go beyond their disciplinary constraints to provide clients with their “best shots” too. 

Third, watch your language. We are all taught not to use Behavior-ese in describing behavior and the maintaining conditions surrounding it. Students are taught to talk this way to immerse them in the concepts and principles of the science that underpins the practice of behavior analysis. Going out with a multidisciplinary team, however, changes things. The main reason for not using our jargon is not because it turns others of different orientations off (although this is, of course, a concern if you are trying to build relationships with other people), but because they don’t know what the heck you’re talking about— a practical issue and not a philosophical one. Keeping language simple (but not simplistic) and focusing on the immediate problem(s) goes a long way in helping to make behavior-analytic treatment understood, and hopefully, accepted as the means of helping people that behavior analysis is. 

Fourthconsider your classes on professional and ethical behavior. The greatest disservice that a behavior analyst can do to our discipline and its fine service providers is to violate ethical and professional codes. Your job is to provide the best that you can! Behaving without regard to these standards and codes puts one at odds with everyone, sabotaging the efforts of other team members who are offering the best of their own disciplines in service to others.

Do these things and you will be well along the path of playing well with others. Playing well with others is not only pragmatic, but it is also the right way to live one’s professional life. 

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Curious about the best ways to deal with ethical dilemmas?

This course is recommended for BCBAs, BCaBAs or other professionals who are interested in learning about a variety of ethical dilemmas that behavior analysts sometimes face in practice, the BACB Professional and Ethical Compliance Code elements that apply to these dilemmas and choosing the best course of action to resolve these dilemmas.

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