Most people I work with are good people that mean well, and they are looking to see something change in people they work with. I’ll talk with a frustrated leader who really wants her employee to alter his or her communication. In another company, a person has a boss that he doesn’t respect or align with, and he expects that boss to start acting differently towards him.

And it begs the question: Are we all doing the right things, while all these other people are just mucking it up??

That could be very true, but it’s usually not the case. Every relationship, project or deliverable relies on multiple interactions between multiple people. And when we are in one of those situations with someone that is just terrible at the job they are supposed to be doing… we can unfortunately only change OUR own thoughts, words, and actions.

This is the category that I encounter the most in coaching:  It revolves around our desire to control other people’s words or behaviors.

The crux is this: We have NO CONTROL OVER OTHER PEOPLE. The ONLY people we have any control over is ourselves. Our own thoughts, words and actions. We often believe down deep that in some way we can “change” someone else, but that is never the case. You can influence others, persuade others, and sometimes even negotiate with others. But if there is anything valuable I’ve learned in my line of work, it’s:

A person will never change his behaviors unless he truly wants to.

Here is the challenge with changing our behaviors. It’s hard. It’s REALLY hard. It’s so hard that most of us need some kind justification that proves how changing our natural behavior will be worth it.

So what do you do when you really need someone to alter his or her behavior, but you cannot control them?

You link your request for their behavior change to something that is motivating for that individual. In other words:  Show them how they will benefit from this difficult change.

How do you know what is motivating to this other person? You think about it, ask others, or do your homework.

  • Is she very social and accepting? She is probably motivated by other people and interpersonal relationships.
  • Is he focused on data and analysis? He is most likely motivated by being correct and getting results.
  • Is she very outspoken and fast paced? She is probably motivated by making quick, exciting changes and getting people excited.
  • Is he more quiet and reserved? He is probably motivated by taking time to analyze and meeting long term goals in a systematic way.

Ask yourself:  How is this other person motivated? What do you believe is behind how they approach problems and decisions? What prompts them to act? Once you can flush that out a little bit, you can start to frame a discussion about what you want them to differently.

Example: You want your boss to recognize you more or give you more positive feedback. After thinking through past situations, you’ve flushed out that your boss is motivated by making bold changes and meeting challenging goals. She wants results and usually changes course when she isn’t getting them.

You then take those motivators and link it directly to the behavior change you would like to see in her. You might say something like this, “I am a much more effective and motivated worker when I get a few ‘good jobs!’ from you after completing a deliverable. If you were able to recognize my effort after each project, even if it’s just a simple email, I am much more likely to become even faster and more efficient for our next project. We might be able to produce even more in a quicker time frame.”

You have just told you boss HOW she will win if she starts praising you more. You will be more productive and she ultimately wins.

I want you to be able to start practicing this when you need to, so below is a very basic list of potential motivators and how to angle a discussion about a behavior change in someone else:

IF the person is motivated by Speed/Results/Being in Charge, explain quickly how their behavior change will IMPROVE:  The speed in which things get done, money saved/earned or their influence as a leader.

IF the person is motivated by Having Fun/Making Big Changes/Being Social, explain how their behavior change will IMPROVE:  Other’s view of them, their experience with the team or the speed at which things can change.

IF the person is motivated by Pleasing others/Kindness/Supporting & Listening, explain how their behavior change will IMPROVE:  Team morale, everyone getting along or success in a long term project.

IF the person is motivated by High Quality Deliverables/Analyzing/Having Privacy, explain in detail how their behavior change will IMPROVE:  The quality of work, ability to work alone or existing processes/procedures

So although you can’t be a puppeteer and direct your boss to walk into your office and give you wonderful feedback, you can try to motivate him to buy into the idea himself by showing him the reward in doing so.

You’d be surprised how people can alter their behavior when they see what’s in it for them. You’ve done it. I’ve done it.

You can get others to do it, too. But you need to control yourself and your actions to do it – not theirs.