You’re in charge and you’re responsible to lead your team to good results. Yet when you look around you see people who are dragging, missing deadlines, and submitting sloppy work. They know what to do, but they aren’t doing it.  You’ve tried to rev them up before, but came away frustrated. Here’s why they just won’t change their attitudes.
It has been proven over and over again that you can change your own habits of thought but you can’t change someone else’s.  It’s tempting to try, especially when their work performance impacts your own, or in a personal context when their actions impact the quality of your life.  Here are some of the most common unsuccessful strategies – have you tried some of them and failed to make a difference?
  1. Giving them the facts.  Facts? Truth is often in the eye of the beholder.  Your perception of the world is colored by your attitudes, your habits of thought, just like their attitudes color theirs.  Who says that your “truth” is any truer than theirs is?
  2. Persuading them to change.  Persuasion is a variation on #1 above, but with a bit of additional emotional engagement.  When you attempt to persuade you often slather on the benefits of seeing it your way. This tactic often fails because they are your perceived benefits.  If the other person has different habits of thought than you, they may not see the same perceived payoff in behaving differently. 
  3. Wearing them down.  Perhaps if you talk long enough you can help them see the light, right?  Wrong.  If you continue to go on and on you’re more likely to cause the other person to tune you out.  Remember the off-screen parent in the Peanuts cartoons?  You’ll become like that for them.  “Wah… wah wah wah wah….”
  4. Threatening them with negative consequences.  Fear is a short-lived motivator.  Over time people become immune, or at least desensitized, to fear’s motivational power.  The more frequently and severely you threaten, the more dulled their senses will become.  They will simply disengage. If you go so far as to issue an ultimatum, be prepared to follow through if they call your bluff. Otherwise your credibility is compromised.
  5. Dangling carrots in front of their noses.  Externally presented rewards can create temporary behavior change, but they tend not to last.  When the reward goes away the behavior goes away.  And in situations where the rewards become an expected part of the system (like pay incentives,) they are primarily noticed when they are missed, not when they are received.  And that just ticks people off.

Change is an individual choice.  You can provide the information, rewards, consequences, etc. – but THEY have to be the ones to open their minds to a new way of thinking. You can, however, create a climate where it becomes easier for people to be open to new habits of thought.

  • Share the big picture, the really big goals with them.  It is easier to change one’s mind in small ways if the really big outcome is compelling enough.
  • When you can, include them in the establishment of the really big goals.  It’s much easier to obtain buy-in when it’s their idea.  Fair warning: to do so, you have to trust their input enough to go with their ideas.
  • Determine whether it’s important to change their minds or to change their behavior.  Sometimes the behavior is enough – for now.  Their mindset may follow once they see that the behavior works.  And if you think about it, you can’t manage their attitudes.  Behavior is the only measurable, readily observable measurement you have.
  • Take the competition out of it.  When you work overhard to move someone, your pressure creates oppositional pressure.  When you build in a “win” for yourself and a “loss” for them if they come over to your way of thinking, you’ll create resistance just because of the individual’s desire not to lose face.

Attitude change only comes about in the same way that behavior change does – through intention, over time.  Habits are conditioned, below your conscious mind, so to change them you have to take yourself off of autopilot temporarily to build the new ones.  Once you have generated enough repetition of the new habit (thought or behavior) it’s easier to sustain in the new direction.

Last point for today:  It is possible that the first mind change that has to happen is yours.  Perhaps they are not wrong and you are not right.  Perhaps there is no wrong or right, but just different perspectives on the issue.  Yours is the only mind over which you have control, so if things aren’t working as well as you would like them to, that’s the best place to start.