How to influence and motivate colleagues who don’t care about the job as much as you do
It’s no cliche that the hardest people to work with aren’t your clients, but the people you work with. Disagreements, differences in opinion and competing ideas about best practices can make a job that is already very demanding, feel like hell on earth.
When you work in a team, it can be one of the most rewarding parts of your job. Personally, I love getting together with people and working collaboratively. When it works well, you can rely on each other, ask for help, receive and give support. Learning becomes a 2-way street and it can be like having a second family. Lucky them!
The problem for many people is that they don’t have this. There is one person, at least, who drives you crazy. You just can’t understand their attitude and you can’t believe what they get away with.
I’ve been in this situation several times. I remember feeling frustrated that the other person just didn’t seem to care or want to make things better. It seemed liked they’d clocked-off, timed-out or given up trying. And what made this difficult for me was that I wasn’t happy on just settling for the way things were. I didn’t want to put up with average. I wanted to invest, to build and to develop something so that people we were serving had a better service and a better experience.
Where I’ve worked we called these people clients or patients. You might call them something different like students, customers, employees or members of the public. It doesn’t matter that we call these people by different terms. What gives you and me common ground is that we care about making things better and we want to contribute to this process.
Who winds you up?
Who do you wish would change their ways?
The reason I ask you, is that I want to help you motivate other people so that they might care about something as much as you do.
Now, I’m going to be straight with you. This isn’t a surefire, bullet-proof guarantee that you’ll be able to transform people. The reality is that you can’t, not directly anyway. But, you can influence people.
And that is what I want to share with you. I’ve learned some important lessons over the years about the way I do things and the impact that has on people. I’ve learned that I can influence people my way or not through what I do and the way I do it.
I appreciate that this may sound a bit manipulative. But I assure you that it isn’t. It doesn’t work for me to guilt or scare people into submission. That’s not who I want to be. What I’ve learned is that I am able to influence people when I build and nurture a respectful and harmonious relationship with them.
Building and Nurturing Respectful and Harmonious Relationships
Let’s start with that idea, because if you are going to motivate someone to do something which they’ve shown you repeatedly they won’t do it, you can’t motivate them through one act. You need to first look at your relationship.
If someone winds me up, if I’m feeling frustrated with their lack of input and if I observe them ducking responsibility, it is easy for me to lose respect for them. And if that happens, then the first battle has been lost. So, the first piece of the puzzle is about finding and treating the other person with respect.
When you respect someone, you recognise them as a human being. You can separate their behaviours (what they say and do) as being different to who they are. All people deserve your respect. Even if you don’t like them or don’t trust them.
If this seems tricky, then maybe this will help. Respecting people is a choice. It is something you decide to do or not to do. Now if you are someone who believes in respect and then you stop respecting somebody, you cease being who you want to be. You let your feelings and their behaviours cloud your judgement. You concede control and you lose your powers.
Instead, try to observe your feelings and their behaviours from a distance. Take a step back and try to notice without being influenced yourself by the thoughts that pop into your mind.
Harmony is more likely to occur when you start with this intention. Harmony is about creating ‘good feeling’ between you and other people. And again, this can be really tricky because it is so easy to get caught up in your own thoughts and feelings over what the other person has done.
But if you start from this place, if you act with the intention of building harmony, then there will be some things that you won’t do. You wouldn’t do these things:
- shout, swear or threaten
- call them names
- complain about them behind their back
- laugh at them during a disagreement
- ignore them as much as possible
- use sarcasm or provoke them
- try to get them into trouble
- only talk to them when you want them to do something
- communicate solely by email
- exclude them from meetings
- embarrass or humiliate them
I appreciate that some of these points may be obvious. But I mention them, because it is easier to slip into reacting like this when your relationship with someone is under strain.
The intention of harmony doesn’t guarantee harmony. Just as treating someone with respect doesn’t mean you’ll get it back. But to increase your chances of influencing someone to care about something as much as you do, it sure does help to focus on doing things that promote harmony rather than undermine it.
How to improve difficult relationships
Here are some ideas, which in my experience have worked to positively improve difficult relationships.
- Show an interest in their well-being. Ask about their weekend and how they are finding work or what they think about recent changes/what’s happening in the team or organisation. Try to spend small amounts of time with them having light conversation. This builds and nurtures your relationship over time through consistent connections.
- Show you are human. Share some of your experiences, stuff you’ve enjoyed, mistakes that you’ve made or funny stories of things that happened to you. Talk about places you’ve been or intend to go. This makes the other person feel more at ease and psychologically safe in your company. They are more likely to like you and to trust you.
- Change the conversation. I don’t mean changing the subject. I mean that it can be helpful to change the way in which you talk, especially if you tend to get into a pattern with each other that doesn’t work. For example, if you often disagree when emailing each other, try to talk in-person at an agreed time. Or change the environment, go for a walk together or chat over coffee. You may not feel like you want to, but if this seems possible, you might be surprised by just how much it can change the conversation you have with each other.
- Write out what you want to say in advance of saying it. Writing in advance can help you think through how to communicate something. For example, if someone hasn’t done what you asked or what they said they’d do, express your thoughts and feelings in terms of your own experience. Refrain from using judgements.
- Use ‘I’ language instead of ‘you’. For example, you could say “I’m worried that if a isn’t done by x, then z will happen. Is there anything I can do to help?” Contrast this with “you said you would do a by x and you haven’t. I’ve done my bit, why haven’t you done yours? ” Notice the differences in tone and the absence of blame in the first communication. It’s not difficult to see that these two communications would have very different impacts.
- Never send emails right after you’ve finished writing them. Wait at least 30 minutes. Walk away, do something else and come back to it. It can be tempting to just hit send so you can get it out of the way. But, if it causes offence, then it won’t save you time. It will cost you more in the long-run.
- Identify the intention of the other person. When someone says or does something that frustrates you, it is easy to take it personally. But slow it down enough and take a step back. Ask yourself this question: what was their intention when they did or said that? Given what you know about them, what might explain why they did that? When you ask these questions, they help you to take a different perspective.
Getting to grips with other people’s confusing behaviour can be a challenge. It can be a puzzle. When you know what pieces to put in place, you’ll be able to see the full picture.
Your feelings can blur your perspective and your mind gets busy making assumptions and obsessing over recent events. These acts can overwhelm you and make it less likely you’ll ever influence the person to change. But, when you slow it down, take a step back, choose a direction and plan what you want to say, different things can happen. You might not become best friends – you may not want to – but you can start to develop a more courteous, professional and more harmonious working relationship with each other. You’ll notice it, they’ll notice it and so will everyone else.
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