As coaches, people often ask us how they can be more effective and impactful at work. Sometimes, it seems like they’re hoping for secret sauce that will give them awesome superpowers. Truth is, there are totally straightforward things that anyone can do, at any time, to make a difference—and they don’t require superpowers at all. You’ll find four of them, below.
First, Get Your Audience’s Attention.
In order to negotiate the building blocks that lead to action in an organization, you need to have a Speaker (that’s you) AND at least one Listener. Well, of course! But do you really make sure you have a committed Listener before you launch into your office requests or offers? Or are you content to make what we call a drive-by request, while the other person checks their phone, responds to email, juggles three calls, doodles, strides purposefully down the hall or navigates traffic in their car? Or we try to shoehorn our request in while the other person is actively focused on their own agenda, the thing all of their care and attention is focused on in that moment.
We all spend much of the day on auto-pilot—if you want to have impact, the first step is to make sure your audience is awake and ready to hear what you have to say.
Establish The Why?
Here’s a simple truth: People do what they are motivated to do. When they don’t understand Why? you want them to do something, they are likely to experience fear, uncertainty and/or doubt. And these emotions are, we’re sure you’ll agree, not at all conducive to sustainable cooperation, coordination, or enthusiasm. When considering making a request or an offer, which are the building blocks of coordinated action, ask yourself “For the sake of what?” If you don’t know the answer, or worse yet, it’s something like “To prove I can bend them to my will!” or “If they don’t do it, I’ll have to,” you’re going to have a hard time motivating anyone.
The ultimate goal here is to help your Listener understand the need well enough to articulate their own reasons for doing something. When people have their own reasons, rather than yours, they will care and commit more deeply to the task at hand.
Show, Don’t Tell.
Lecturing and talking at people bores them. Even worse, it can threaten their perception of Status, a very powerful social threat that effectively shuts down clear, logical thinking and triggers a big AWAY! response. And that’s not going to help you achieve your ambitious goals, is it? The infinitely more impactful approach is to demonstrate a desired behavior. This is because we humans are intensely Social beings with a strong instinct to blend with the people around us by echoing their behaviour. This is why we tend to smile when people smile at us, and show up on time for things in an environment where everyone else does. This is where the power of leading by example comes from.
And let’s be clear: Authenticity matters, As the negative tinge around phrases like “just going through the motions” and “putting on a show” suggest, people in organizations are pretty savvy at reading social cues, whether at the conscious or unconscious level.
Appeal To Their Emotions.
Motivation is not something you do to someone else–it’s something people do for themselves. And emotions are just that, the predisposition to do, or not do, something. (The word comes from the Latin movere, to move.) If the emotion at hand is resignation—the bane of modern organizational life—you can rest assured that whomever you are addressing is not terribly likely to volunteer to take on some ambitious new project. This is the secret behind strengths-based approaches to motivation, since they tap into positive, energizing emotions. And it’s why it’s easy to get things done in a context filled with emotions such as appreciation, caring, integrity, respect and trust, and like pulling teeth when those emotions are not present.
By this point, you’ve probably guessed why we call this stuff painfully obvious, which is because you’ve likely heard it before. The hard part seems to be moving from knowing these things to doing them or, even better, being the sort of person who consistently embodies these approaches. (We call these sorts of people… Leaders.)
Assuming we have your attention, we’ll tell you the secret to making this shift: Establishing a Why? that connects to a cause or outcome that’s larger than yourself and your own self-interest. Because that is where you’ll find the motivation to lead by example and embody a way of being that appeals to, and generates, positive emotions.