Win Cooperation From Workers Without Coercion

December 18, 2009

When employees rave about their boss, what they're really saying is, "My boss connects with me." They like working for a supportive, respectful manager.

Yet some supervisors make little effort to engage employees. Instead of showing interest in them as fully dimensional people, these bosses issue edicts, demand obedience and avoid two-way conversations.

"The best managers have an attitude of 'I'm here to help you,'" said Carol Super, a professional speaker and sales trainer in New York City. "When they propose something, they make the employee feel that what they're proposing is in the employee's benefit even if it's a sacrifice."

Management experts often urge executives to adopt principles of "servant leadership." That means striking a humble, responsive tone with employees and expressing curiosity for their ideas and opinions.

Flex Your Personality Muscles

Servant leaders tend to exert authority in subtle ways. Rather than give orders, they use dialogue to encourage workers to conclude for themselves which tasks require attention.

From her sales experience, Super has found that a key to persuading people is communicating with them on their terms rather than dictating how she wants them to act. Pushing your proposal onto someone by lecturing or insisting on compliance can trigger resistance, says Super, co-author of "Selling (Without Selling)."

For example, some people are more apt to follow a leader's directive if they get a chance to offer their suggestions beforehand.

Others like to discuss the details of how they intend to go about implementing the project — and get the boss's approval before they proceed.

The most successful managers adjust their communication style to appeal to wide-ranging personalities. If you're naturally a take-charge, drill-sergeant leader, you may need to modify your behavior to foster a more cooperative, compliant work force.

Discipline With Questions

Effective leaders use the same engaging, flexible approach to discipline poor performers. Rather than scold or berate people who make mistakes, respectful bosses launch a line of friendly inquiry.

"If you manage an employee who often arrives late for work, find out what's important to that person," Super said. "You may learn that the employee wants his peers to like him. If so, ask: 'Do you care what your co-workers think about you?'"

After the employee nods his head, you can ask: "Are your co-workers important to you?"

Again, the employee nods. Then say: "It helps to be punctual. Everyone likes people who arrive on time. When you show up late, others may assume you don't care about them."

By asking non-threatening questions, you lead people to realize how they can produce more desirable outcomes by changing their behavior. This saves you from telling them what to do or how to do it.

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