I was listening to John Maxwell’s book called Winning with People, and he mentioned something that Abe Lincoln said about relationships:
When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.
I like what President Lincoln said and I would even take it a step further. When we are dealing with others, we need to think about not only what they will think, but also about what they will feel. We do that by putting ourselves in their situation. We need to imagine what it would be like to be them.
In his book, The Platinum Rule, Tony Alessandra suggests a similar approach. Tony takes the golden rule a step further to create the platinum rule. While the golden rule is about treating others as you would like to be treated, the platinum rule is about treating others as they would like to be treated.
A good application of this approach is when we need to give constructive criticism. Let’s say we have someone on our team that we need to provide some less than positive feedback. We could just deliver it the message, and leave the person feeling sad, or angry, or perhaps scared for their job. Or we can do it in a way that leaves them feeling excited and energized to make a change.
The key to generating excitement and energy is to think through what we are going to say and how it will impact them. We need to address the behavior in a factual way and describe the problems or negative outcomes that it causes. Then we talk about what is the proposed or desired behavior. Finally, we can cast a vision for the individual which is larger than the way they see themselves.
In a recent situation, I had a team lead who reported to me who was very frustrated with the level of support he was getting from a technical support team. For 3 weeks he had been struggling to get the support team to address a serious problem he was having. The support team seemed to be moving slowly with no solution was in sight. I was holding the standard high for him and expected him to resolve the situation. My team lead was feeling angry and helpless and wanted to give up. He wasn’t even following through on suggestions that I made for solving the problem.
I thought about his situation and considered what he was thinking as well as what he was feeling. I put myself in his shoes and realized that if I were him, I might be a little angry as well as scared for my job. Especially with the pressure, I was placing on him. For him, this was about performance and he felt the stakes were very high. I also saw that he lacked experience in dealing with this type of situation.
So I decided to try a different approach with him. When I next met with my team lead, I told him what I had observed about his performance and that I still expected him to follow through on my request. I then told him that I had full confidence in his ability to solve the problem. I didn’t want him to give up on the problem or for me to solve it for him.
Then I told him that I thought he needed to change his way of thinking about the situation. So that he wasn’t so scared about his job, I asked him to consider the importance of the problem in terms of the overall priorities for the project and for his life. I pointed out that while it was important to get the technical problem solved, it was certainly not life and death.
Then I tried to get him excited about what was possible. I told him that I saw him as someone with a lot of potential. I described for him a future state where he was successfully dealing with problems like this one all the time and enjoying it. I was able to cast a vision for him around dealing with problems like this.
I also suggested that instead of feeling helpless and angry, he could find a way to have fun with it. I proposed that he view the situation as a game, similar to table tennis. Viewing it as a game, he could reframe the situation and allow for a more positive outcome. As a game, he would also be more likely to have some fun with the situation.
After the discussion, my team lead looked less scared and angry. He seemed more confident and energized about solving the problem. He was excited.
Within a couple of days of our discussion, the root cause of the technical problem was found and resolved. My team lead was excited and happy to report that to me. I think it was even more important that he had found a new way of dealing with problems, and seeing them as a game.
When dealing with individuals on our project teams, it is important to put ourselves in their shoes and to address what they are feeling. We can then cast a vision for them in terms of how we see them in the future. This is an important two-step process. Using this approach, more often than not people will try to live up to that higher vision we have for them.