For many entrepreneurs, the “Functions of Behavior” (FBA) concept is one of the most alluring business concepts available. It purports to offer unique insights into how people behave in general, as well as in specific situations. In short, FBA basically helps you understand human behavior and its underlying reasons by offering insights into “how the professionals do it” that you can apply directly and practice even without having a formal business education or any related experience.
As an entrepreneur, however, it is important to be wary about jumping on the band wagon of such concepts, especially when there are better and more effective ways to arrive at the truth. This is why I have distilled some of my thoughts and points of comparison to FBA to draw my readers’ attention to the critical but lesser known functions of behavior FBA.
A. Asking Questions – In order to understand the significance of FBA in terms of actually making business decisions, it is important that we examine the process of asking questions. One of the core functions of behavior FBA is to encourage the questions our clients ask so we can gain a deeper understanding of the business environment, the client’s needs and their perspective. We also need to keep in mind that a client may not be able to verbalize the very purpose behind his inquiries, which is where questions help him point out what is important to him in terms of fulfilling his needs.
B. Accepting the Question – While questions are the heart of FBA, we cannot expect them to serve as the final answer to every inquiry. Rather, we must learn to properly respond to the inquiries of clients in line with our professional interests. Our responsibility is not to provide the ‘answers’ that they seek, but to validate their need to seek an answer and to see if we can help them get those answers. After we have properly responded, our clients would have gained further clarity and insight into the intended meaning of their behavior and the corresponding actions they should take.
C. Communicating the Answer – Once we have answered a client’s inquiry, we are required by our human resources department to communicate the answer (or explanations) to the client in whatever way possible. In theory, we do not want to stonewall our clients when it comes to discussing their situation.
However, there are instances where it is better to withhold understanding rather than misrepresent our position. In cases where we are required to withhold our response, we would need to demonstrate our commitment to the cause of the client by refraining from deflecting the question or offering an uncooperative answer.
D. Tracking the Result – When the intervention results in the desired result, then we have effectively addressed the issue. The intervention has been successful. However, we can never be sure of the intervention outcome unless we track the outcomes over time. This is where the value of FBA becomes evident. We can measure how effective the intervention was by recording the effect on the identified issues at each step along the intervention chain (i.e., the starting point, the labeling of the issues, and the follow-up appointments with the client).
Beyond these four functions, FBA also allows us to capture and measure external changes, such as changes in cultural assumptions or exposure to new information. These variables are important for measuring the success of any intervention because they can affect future behavior. If there is significant change, FBA can be used as a capturing frame to assess how successful the original intervention was in terms of its behavioral change and impact on the identified behaviors.
Understanding the Functions of Behavior
The functions of behavior are a core concept in behavioral science, and they’re quite simple to define. Depending on your preferred source, the functions are described in several different ways that can make understanding this theory extremely confusing to young students just beginning to learn about the field. Some traditional sources reference 3-D functions of behavior, such as: Escape, Attention, Focus, and Accuracy. Although these are all useful terms, they don’t really describe what the functions actually do.
Most children and parents when asked about the functions of behavior describe the concept of wanting something, having a good time, or performing an appropriate action as if those things were true. One of the functions of behavior is to ensure that the child or pet get its needs met. A good way to think about this is that the child is engaging in the behaviors that are necessary for that purpose.
For example, it’s important that you don’t forget to feed the cat or that you need to shut the door before you leave the house, because that action alone will not get the child to remember to do those actions if it has already been programmed to forget them on a previous visit to that very same location.
The functions of behavior are most useful when it comes to teaching children how to use a tool, such as a pencil, to complete a particular task. If you want to teach a child how to use a pen to draw a straight line, you can teach the child by providing a range of options so that the child has as many choices as possible.
If you’ve already provided an option for pencil drawing (either a pen or crayon), and the child still struggles with completing the task, then the problem is not with the tool or the drawing itself, but rather with the child’s inability to apply his or her memory of the instructions to those alternative choices. In these situations, you can help the child to remember the basic procedures by using negative reinforcement, which is to tell the child that if he doesn’t do what you want him to, he’ll receive negative consequences such as being grounded, or taken away from playing with the rest of the children.
Negative reinforcement is essentially telling the child “if you do X, Y, or Z, you’ll get punished”. However, it is also a powerful tool, because many children are actually quite smart, and can learn from negative reinforcement if they know that the consequences are out of their control.