People don’t always do what you want or expect them to and this can be exasperating and frustrating. It can lead to a sense of powerlessness that has a negative impact on us and the people around us. We can spend time and energy trying to change someone else only to end up exhausted and defeated. A common response to feeling powerless is to shout louder to try to force others to do what we want. This may sometimes prove effective – if the people around us are fearful of the consequences of not doing what we demand for example – but does not create good relationships, especially in the workplace.
What we often fail to appreciate is that getting the results we want is less about changing other people and more about changing our own behaviour to influence those around us differently.
We have no control over the behaviour of others, so trying to forcibly change it is a fruitless pursuit that will ultimately end in failure.
However, behaviour breeds behaviour and so by changing the way we approach people and situations we can change the response we get for the better.
Picture this – you have asked a member of your team to complete a piece of work and have stressed the importance of the work being completed on time. You enquire how the work is going and the colleague admits they have not yet started it. You are annoyed that your colleague does not seem to be appreciating the importance of the work and you let that annoyance be known through raising your voice and berating the individual on their cavalier attitude to customer service. Your colleague is becoming increasingly offended by your comments and eventually storms out muttering under their breath that perhaps you might first understand their reasons for not having started the work.
The next day there is a distinctly frosty atmosphere in the office and your colleague is avoiding eye contact with you. It is not a comfortable situation and the people sharing the office seem to be picking up on the bad atmosphere as well. Your colleague throws the work you asked him to do on your desk at the end of the day (within the deadline) and walks out without a word.
How about if the situation had been handled a little differently? What about if you had asked how the work was going and when your colleagues admitted not having started it yet you had enquired if there was anything you could do to assist given the importance of getting the work completed? Your colleague explains that they are waiting on clarification of some key information before they are able to continue the work and that they have been chasing the answers they need but feel confident they will be able to get the work done before the deadline. You agree with your colleague that they will speak to you at the earliest opportunity if they need help or fear the deadline might not be met. The work is completed on time and you have increased the trust and respect in the relationship with your colleague through the way you have handled the situation.
In the scenario described above the trigger situation is the same (checking progress on an urgent piece of work). However, the way that the situation is handled is different – in the first instance negative assumptions are made about the colleague tasked with completing the work and an impulsive reaction creates a difficult working relationship. In the second instance a more enquiring approach is adopted with a much more positive and constructive outcome. In the first instance we are seeking to exert power over the colleague, in the second we are seeking to influence and enable through understanding the nature of the hold up to getting the work done.
The benefits of influencing and enabling last far beyond the one instance outlined above though. The approach we took in the second instance has improved the working relationship and we now have an even more collaborative working relationship that will enable better communication, engagement and ultimately better outcomes for everyone.