by Robert Maurer and Michelle Gifford
On a daily basis we are called on to help others. We do this as parents, spouses, and friends; and we do this in the workplace, as employees, colleagues, and managers. But how often do we consciously and skillfully pull from our toolbox the right strategy for guiding, motivating, and inspiring another person? And, if our first efforts fail, how creative are we in finding another strategy? Collaboration, coaching, and mentoring are certainly rewarding when done well, but they can be both painful and ineffective when done poorly.
Imagine that you are preparing to talk with a colleague, employee, or a family member. Your goal is to help them improve their current situation, performance, or life. What is your approach? How do you decide what strategy to use? Or, do you think in terms of strategy at all? If one approach isn’t working, do you have a plan B or C ready? When I interview executives who are required to give feedback to employees, I ask them to list their strategies for this challenging task. They often say, hesitantly, “I just tell it like it is…” or “I give it to them straight.” I then inquire, “So, how well is that working?” The answer, usually accompanied by an uncomfortable smile, is “sometimes.” And sometimes, direct feedback – no matter how painful it is to give or receive – is the right response. But not always.
To achieve strong collaboration, different situations call for varying types of feedback and support. For those situations where a more strategic approach is called for, allow me to provide you with a “gourmet guide” of support that will help you to provide assistance and motivate others at work and at home. For those times when you are the one in need of support, you can also use this menu to help identify what you might need from others.
There are seven strategies that are especially useful and are easily recalled using the mnemonic of INSPIRE. The word is a fitting, since inspire means “to take in.” When you are providing feedback or support, you want the other person to take in and be inspired by what you have to say.
So what are the INSPIRE strategies?
- The I stands for INSTRUCTION. This refers to providing others with needed information and is divided into three types: Do I need to provide this person information or resources, or teach them certain skills?
- The N is for NURTURING. This is the ability to listen emphatically without the need to give advice or suggestions. Perhaps a colleague or friend is grieving a business failure, a family death, or a cancer diagnosis. Giving information, advice, or suggestions may be unnecessary, while sharing in their stories and listening to their fears may be invaluable.
- The S stands for SPIRITUALITY. While this strategy is often used more at home than in the workplace, acknowledging the presence of a higher power and offering to pray with or for a friend or family member may be perceived as a very powerful form of support.
- The P is for PRAISE. This is another powerful way to support others. Studies demonstrate that it is difficult for people to accept critical feedback unless they already feel appreciated and that certain types of praise are most useful. So what types of praise are powerful? Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, PhD, found that complimenting children or adults for effort rather than results set them up for success with new learning, continued effort, openness to criticism, and willingness to change across a lifetime. She found that praising individuals for taking initiative, helping others, being open to critical feedback, and bouncing back from setbacks were most effective. On the other hand, praising people for results, or telling them how talented or brilliant they are is not as effective, because people who are praised only for results often have trouble sharing credit and recovering from setbacks.
- The next I stands for INQUISITIVENESS. Learning to be curious and to ask open-ended questions with a commitment to understanding the other person’s point of view can be very difficult. In our haste to change a person’s behavior, we often skip this critical step and we do so at great cost. The purpose of any negotiation is create doubt in the mind of another person about the validity of their point of view. However, no one will allow you to create doubt unless they trust you, and no one will trust you until they are sure you understand and respect their point of view. The quicker and harder we try to persuade someone to change, the more likely they are to dig in and justify their position. This is, in my opinion, the hardest collaboration strategy to learn and one of the most important.
- The R stands for REJECTION. This returns us to where we started – giving feedback to others. Being skillful in providing critical feedback is truly difficult. This is such a critical type of support and collaboration, however, that it has three subtypes. One is Refusal, being willing and able to say no to someone whose behavior is unacceptable. A person may be upset in hearing the rejection, but the behavior must stop, and now. In these cases, tone of voice is critical. A matter-of-fact, non-emotional statement of the facts often works best. The second form of rejection is Re-Framing. This is where you do not reject the person’s behavior, but instead their interpretation of it. An excellent example of this occurred at IBM years ago when Tom Watson was the CEO. In spite of good intentions and hard work, a marketing guru created a campaign that cost IBM millions. The story was told that the employee came into Watson’s office and blurted out, “Mr. Watson I guess this means I am fired.” Watson replied, said “Not after we just spent millions training you!” A third type of rejection is Referral. These are the times you realize that you are not the appropriate person or you don’t have the resources to help, so you refer out to someone who is involved or who can help. For instance, a co-worker comes to you complaining about a mutual colleague, seeking your agreement and sympathy. Rather than providing this, you internally reject the request and encourage your colleague to speak directly with the other person.
- The E stands for EXAMPLE. Are you a role model for the behavior you are encouraging in others? As Albert Einstein so wisely said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”
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About the Authors
Bob Maurer is a clinical psychologist on the faculty of the UCLA and the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is also the Director of Behavioral Science for the Family Medicine Residency in Spokane, Washington.
Michelle Gifford, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinical speech language pathologist in private practice and a consultant-educator for families and teams, developing programs of excellence on behalf of children with special needs.