Resistance is Futile

When they simply refuse to do what they should.

Last month, I wrote about making decisions that others will agree with. Let’s flip it around this month, and take a look at why people resist doing what they should.

Joe* was part of a large project team where multiple contractors were working on different parts of the job. He was responsible for a very small portion and he managed two of the contractors. Each contractor had a group of people working under the directions of a foreman. At the beginning, Joe communicated expectations with the contractors and established a process that everyone agreed will help the work progress smoothly.

After a few days on the job, Mike*, one of the other team leaders came to Joe and told him that one of his foremen was not following the process that had been agreed to. Mike had approached the foreman and had been told bluntly that what he was requesting was more than what was agreed, and that he would not comply. Mike was about to go and report this to the overall leader of the project, but Joe asked him not to do that yet. He asked for time to speak to the foreman.

Interestingly enough, after Joe had a discussion with the foreman, he agreed to do the work that he had earlier told Mike that he would not do.

Why was Joe successful where Mike failed?

In general, why do some people refuse to do what they ought to? Leaders run into this scenario more often than you can imagine. There’s that one employee who just won’t do what is required of him. Parents of teenagers are often in the same situation. Why won’t your son or daughter listen and do something that’s beneficial for them?

On the Spot

In many cases, the approach is the culprit. When someone needs to be set straight, many of us allow our emotions to take over. This is particularly true in cases where we think we had a prior agreement; especially if we are in a position of authority over that person. High on Adrenalin, we often lash out without minding our environment. We do it with coworkers or other people present.

As humans, many of us do not like being put down, especially when others are around. The presence of other people goes a long way to determine how we respond when others talk to us about sensitive issues. We all like to feel important; we want our egos stroked. But when I talk down to you in order to address a situation, the response I get may not be what I had hoped for.

Fight or Flight

One major outcome when we put people on the spot in this manner is that they feel insulted. When we don't allow them to save face, the result is disrespect. Many of us may not think of it this way. We think, if they don’t want to be talked to in a manner they don’t like, they should do what’s expected of them in the first place. While that may be true, it’s always a good idea to imagine the shoe on the other foot.

How would I like it, if someone speaks to me in a disrespectful manner when I do wrong? And I do, do wrong! We all do.

When someone is disrespected, one of two responses is typical: fight or flight. They will either respond in kind or keep quiet. They will return the disrespect or hold it in for fear of the consequences that result from saying something. Neither response is good. Both breed strife; one covertly, the other overtly. Whether this involves a leader with her team members at work, or a parent with her rebellious teenager, relationships could be destroyed.

So what do you do?

The solution is simple. When you have to admonish someone, do it in a private. You don’t want to be seen talking down at somebody, even if you have authority over them; especially if you have authority over them. All you will accomplish is to put more distance between you and them. If you’re angry about the situation, let cooler heads prevail before deciding to discuss the situation.

Even if you’re convinced that they deserve a tongue-lashing, do it in private. That’s one way you can influence them to listen to what you have to say. Give them an opportunity to save face.

Your credibility may depend on it.

*Names have been changed