If you don’t, they won’t

21st May 2013

Parent: You should eat more fruit

Child: Well, you never do

Communication loses power when people think you don’t do what you’re asking them to.

Obvious, yes? Well, it should be. But I’ve seen hundreds of examples of when this isn’t the case. Recognise these?

  • Bosses who say ‘It’s imperative every one of you attends this critical presentation on X. I can’t be there, I’m afraid. I’ve a Board Meeting that I can’t miss’
  • Colleagues who complain when others waste their time by making them attend pointless meetings… who then host meetings that others don’t need to attend
  • People who send emails asking people to stop sending them emails
  • Leaders who email their direct reports, telling them they should spend more face-to-face time with their direct reports
  • Sales bosses who say ‘Meeting our customers’ needs is our Number One Priority… Alan, why haven’t you sold more Product Xs this month?’
  • People who grumble about presenters’ word-y slides… who then present alongside word-y slides ‘to remind me what I’m supposed to be saying’

It even happens with people who are supposed to be experts at their topics. For instance, I’ve attended many training courses where even the trainers didn’t follow their own advice:

  • a Writing Course with spelling mistakes in the pack
  • a Confidence Course, where the presenter was really nervous
  • my personal favourite – a Time Management Course when the trainer arrived late

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying”. Or if you prefer, people copy what you do, not what you say.

So, want to change others’ behaviours? Change yourself first. And then tell them what you want them to do.

It’s the only way to persuade your children to eat fruit.

And it’s the only way to persuade others to do… well, anything.

Action point

You can either use this technique to looking forwards or back. Identify…

…Something you’re about to ask people to change. Be honest with yourself. Will they perceive you’ve already made the change yourself?

…A recent situation where you asked people to change, but they didn’t. Ask yourself whether this might have been because you hadn’t first made the change yourself.

Next step with them both? Change yourself first. Then – and only then – communicate it.

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