How do you get other people to do the things you want (and need) them to do?

Even the people with the power, like my client Mary Kay — a safety and quality manager at a major manufacturing company — can get frustrated when she gives an order and her subordinate doesn’t comply.  

“You don’t understand,” she says, “there’s no need to talk about it – actually, there’s no choice when it comes to following safety standards.  People get hurt when the rules are broken, so my people need to keep them even if they don’t want to.  As a matter of fact, I don’t care what they think!”

Whew. But Mary Kay’s right: there is no option to safe behavior.  And still, people often don’t do the right thing.  So maybe they do have a choice?

I remember hearing that very thing from my teenage daughter years ago – “Mom,” she said, “you can’t make me follow the rules, so just stop trying.”  And she was right, too!  

So what am I advocating?  Anarchy?


Mary Kay has good intentions – she’s charged with seeing to it that her people stay safe.  And she can’t do it alone.  She needs the cooperation of her entire team.  So what’s the secret?

Her people won’t do the right things until they want to.  

What then must she do?  Mary Kay needs to learn how to help people find their own motivation.  Instead of spending time, money and effort on techniques and methods to control and force her will on folks, she needs to learn to listen.  

This is a problem for many managers in the modern era, sadly; some studies indicate that 95 percent of managers don’t understand motivation. Other studies have shown that 60 percent of managers feel they’re “too busy” to listen to or show respect to their employees.

Now, for some employees in any manager-employee relationship, it’s going to boil down to realizing what they don’t want – they don’t want to be written up, they don’t want to be fired, and honestly, they don’t want to be hurt or hurt someone else.  

So for most, it will mean discovering, articulating and sharing what they care about – and how doing what’s right will help them take care of that – like getting home safely and with all their body parts every day of the year.

I was working in a gold mine in Peru with a group of laborers on a safety project that management was supporting.  Although the incident record was as close to zero as any other mine in the world, it still wasn’t zero.  You’d think that everyone would want a perfect record.  But there were things that workers just didn’t want to do or didn’t know they could do — tell the bus driver to slow down and drive the speed limit when they were all anxious to get home, get a ladder when the supervisor was telling you just to climb up on a machine and get the job done, or put on their safety goggles when it was hot and they were uncomfortable.

So what did management do?  They helped people find their own sources of motivation – by engaging them with the data, listening to the stories of people who had nearly had an accident, and by having them meet and talk to the victims of accidents and their families.

It was magic – not only did the workers get on board with the initiative, they led it!

Sometimes the best way to influence people’s behavior is to listen to them.  Take 3 simple (not easy!) actions today:

  1. Ask your people what’s important to them — and ask them how they can show their care at work.
  2. Ask your people what they’re concerned about and listen while they tell you. Don’t preach, don’t solve.
  3. Ask your people how you can help…and listen.  Then commit to one thing you’re willing to do to make it easier for them to act on their cares and concerns.

Bottom line: you don’t want to be among the 25 percent of leaders with huge listening problems. You want to lead from a place where everyone who works with you genuinely believes that whenever they have an issue, a concern, or anything else — you will be there and will listen. That’s the first step to developing great organizations where everyone’s on their best behavior.

About Barbara Hauser

Barbara Hauser is the owner and President of Barbara Hauser Associates providing services to hundreds of clients in the U.S. and around the world from her base in Weston, Florida. She is also the author of The Power of Coaching for Teams and The Art of Entrepreneurial Living training and coaching programs. She encourages leaders to challenge their thinking and achieve increasingly higher levels of performance. She understands communication obstacles to help clients solve some of their toughest issues, improve the quality of their key relationships and attract and keep their best talent.

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