How the Word “Because” Increases Your Influence


“Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”

“Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

In a famous study by Ellen Langer and others appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sixty percent of the persons in line complied with the first request.  Ninety-four percent complied with the second request.  Why?  The second request contained the magic word “because” which triggered giving the reason.

Best-selling author, Nancy Duarte, says that most do a good job of explaining what they want.  But they are pretty inept at explaining the “why.”

For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday?”  The “what” is clear (environmental audit) and the “how” is apparent (attached spreadsheet).  But the “why” is missing.

When asked about the missing “why”, the manager said, “The reason is obvious.  Failure to document could result in consequences.  The other party may or may not have been aware of the manager’s assumption.

Increase your persuasion by ensuring that the word “because” is part of the request.  For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday because we need the documentation to prove compliance to the auditors?”

 

Coaching Tone May Make A Difference


Elsie admitted that she had a tendency to procrastinate and get distracted. Her manager said, “Elsie, I expect you to verify all invoices, complete payments on time and enter data into the computer accurately.  Otherwise, there could be consequences.”

Elsie improved for about four weeks, then she drifted into carelessness—making mistakes and missing deadlines.

The manager said, “I like Elise but I get frustrated because I have to spend too much time micromanaging her.”

Eventually, Elise’s manager was transferred. Her new manager commented, “After observing Elsie’s performance for a couple of weeks, I sat down with her and in a friendly way worked out checklists and deadlines for completing her tasks.  At least weekly, I reviewed with Elsie her work.

The manager “thanked” Elsie for even her slightest improvements and patiently noted mistakes.  Elsie quickly apologized and immediately corrected the errors.

After about four months, Elsie’s performance, while not perfect, became much more reliable.  “Eventually,” her manager said, “I got acceptable performance from Elsie by asking her to give me weekly updates on her metrics.”

Elsie said, “My first manager made me very nervous.  I knew he didn’t like me, but I really like my current manager.  I don’t want to disappoint her.”

 

 

All Employees Are the Same; All Are Different


Eric’s manager said to me, “Eric will not take initiative. He knows his job but does only what I tell him to do.”

“What have you tried?” I asked.

“I’ve told him to do what he thinks needs to be done and don’t wait around for me to give him an assignment. He wasn’t responsive, so I started giving him detailed checklists.”

“How did that work?”

“Not so well.  Eric made a half-hearted effort to do a few things but mostly he just conjured up excuses.”

Effective leaders are attentive to each employees’ uniqueness.  Some like detailed instructions, some like broad guidance.   Some like public praise but public attention embarrasses others.  Pressure motivates some people to rise to the occasion, others buckle.

If your current way of dealing with an employee is not producing the desired results, then change your methods.

Since micromanaging did not work with Eric, maybe the leader could try giving him specific outcomes with deadlines and a lot of freedom in performing his tasks.

Of course, if a leader tries several ways to motivate an employee and none seem to work, it is likely that the employee just does not have the talent or commitment to perform.

How to Deal with Annoyances


“I know I’m supposed to be professional at all times,” a manager told me.  “But I’m human and some of my people get on my last nerve.”

“We are human,” I responded, “and we have human emotions.  Annoyance, frustration and even anger are normal emotions that all people (including managers) experience.”

I think it is important that managers, as well as employees, avoid letting the steam in their boilers build up to a red-alert level.  Even though we try not to get upset, we sometimes feel like we are walking in quicksand.

If an employee’s behavior angers you by lagging in late to meetings, say something like, “You know it may be small thing, but it upsets me that you are often late to our meetings.  The five minutes may be nugatory, but you can help me prevent an ulcer if you will show up on time.”

Often, staff members will strive to correct petty behaviors that ruffle their managers’ feathers.  But even if they don’t, it is better for all if we openly communicate our concerns.  If we try to force down annoyances, regardless of how minor, they don’t’ dissolve.  Most often, the irritations simmer and sometimes they erupt.

You Can’t Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear


A vice president presented the following challenge to me, “I have an excellent division manager who knows our product and strategies better than anyone I’ve seen.”

“I anticipate a ‘but’ coming,” I responded.

“Yes, his people skills are among the worst.  Customers love him but he berates and embarrasses staff.  He is very argumentative with me and the president.  His vocabulary is filled with demeaning curse words.  Many have complained and three long-time, high-performers have quit.”

“I assume that you have talked to him.”

“Yes, many times.”

“So you want me to coach him on his people skills?”

“That’s right.”

“His behaviors are so hard-wired, he is very likely incapable of making significant, lasting improvements in his ability to work with people.”

I continued to explain that no matter how good you are at coaching, you will not likely convert a narcissistic-neurotic-whining-argumentative employee into considerate-cooperative-respectful team player.

When dealing with extremely disruptive people, my experience suggests that you have two choices.  One, put up with them the way they are; or two, remove them.

The “silk purse, sow’s ear” proverb—meaning that you are not likely to convert unrefined, dirty and base behavior into refined and desirable—apparently emerged in the mid-1500’s.  Some still don’t get it.

 

Jack Welch’s Approach to Appraisals


I like Jack Welch’s (the very successful, former CEO of General Electric) approach to performance appraisals.

Manager presents to the employee a handwritten sheet of paper.  The left column lists the manager’s view of employee’s achievements.  The right column contains items the employee could do better.  Both lists focus on performance metrics and team behaviors.

Manager and employee engage in a meaningful conversation.  Manager gives examples, “Your error rate is less than .03 percent, almost a ten percent improvement over last period.” “I like that you went out of your way to help our new engineer learn our software tool.”

Sum up by reporting, “Shelly, you are in the top twenty percent of our employees, and I’ll recommend a good pay increase.” Or, “Jackson, your overall performance puts you in the solid seventy percent of our team and your raise will reflect that.  I would like to see improvement in meeting deadlines and reducing errors.  I’ll help you with those.

Or, “Alford, I’m disappointed that, after considerable training, your response time is still the slowest in our group.  Let me help you find another position that is a better fit.”

Conduct these interviews at least twice a year and allow about thirty minutes for each session.