In the role of a leader, it‘s common to have to ask your people to change the way they do things, and even change their attitudes. A great leader and influencer would know just the right way to do so without creating resentment or offending.
Dale Carnegie in his long-standing best seller How to Win Friends and Influence People, explains how this can be done.
His nine principles of how successful leaders can influence their people and change their attitudes and behaviour are astonishingly simple, yet powerful and an eye-opener, whatever your circumstances are.
Start with praise
Carnegie starts by explaining his first principle for doing this right: “Begin with a praise and honest appreciation”.
Everyone loves a compliment. It is easy to get caught up in your fury and disappointment, and forget all the good things about the person you are about to criticise.
However, starting your discussion by stating the good points of the person and drawing attention to areas you are honestly happy with, will encourage the person to take criticism in a more constructive way than they would otherwise.
Compliment him or her for something they are doing well. This will lead the person to feel a sense of pride, that he or she would later on try to maintain by correcting the flaw you are about to talk about.
Take an indirect approach
Carnegie’s second principle is to “call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly”. The word “but”, if used after a sincere praise and followed by a criticism, will most likely make the recipient doubt the sincerity of the praise altogether.
If you replace the word “but” with “and”, this hurdle is easily overcome and the recipient will more receptive of the criticism.
Admit your own mistakes
“Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person,” goes Carnegie’s third principle.
The power of admitting your own faults before delving into the faults of the person, is immense.
It humanises you. It makes the recipient realise that you know that no one is perfect and that you’ve made mistakes yourself.
Narrating similar mistakes you made in the past, their consequences and how you overcame them, can lead to the person better understanding their mistakes and taking in tips on how to improve.
“Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.” There is something magical about allowing people to correct their own mistakes, guiding them towards the right path by providing suggestions and ideas, rather than a direct order.
In this scenario, they will have ownership of the change, and they will understand the stakes involved.
No one likes to follow orders – everyone prefers to be given the opportunity to come up with their own ingenious ways of solving problems.
Gentle guidance and direction can therefore yield better results rather than passing down a mere order in the form of “Just do it this way!”
Keep their feelings in mind
“Let the other person save face,” is Carnegie’s fifth principle. We often forget about the importance of others’ feelings.
Letting people feel that they are valued for what they do rather than simply criticising or punishing them for something they have done wrong, goes a long way in making them embrace the advised change.
Instead of firing a person, consider whether you can adjust his or her role according to what they are good at.
That way, you are not alienating a crucial resource for your organisation, and at the same time you are correcting a situation by making space for someone else to take over the initial role the individual was less proficient in.
“Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish your praise.’”
Carnegie’s sixth principle refers to the innate need of humans to hear encouragement when they themselves know that things are not going great.
It is easy to criticise others. It is far harder to congratulate them and encourage them on the good baby steps they are making towards their aim.
Even though a small step may not necessarily be a significant achievement, it always helps to identify the small progress and praise the individual for it.
After all, people achieve milestones at different speeds; no one is the same, and it is good to remember that.
What may take three days for someone to complete, may only take you one. But a different task that may take you a week, may take the person you are about to criticise just two days.
Set a reputation to live up to
The seventh principle states: “Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.” If you compliment someone on something the person is good at (or could be good at), you leave them with no choice but to rise and live up to that reputation.
By focussing once again on the positive side, you indirectly ensure that the person you are trying to influence will do his or her best to reach that expectation.
Make it look easy
“Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct,” Carnegie advises. Telling people they are bad at something will merely destroy every incentive they may have to improve on it.
However, doing the opposite will let the person know that you have faith in them and that you trust that they will do their best to achieve the target.
Make them happy
Carnegie’s final principle on influencing change in people without offending them is to “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest”.
This is less straight-forward than the rest of Carnegie’s principles, and perhaps seems the hardest to master.
So how can we achieve this? By ensuring they understand our rationale. For example, the role might be too menial for them, or they are too important to be seen doing something like this, or even by offering a substitute role/project to force them to start thinking about that rather than dwell on the disappointment of a turn-down or a reprimand.
Carnegie explains that an effective leader, when in the midst of changing attitudes or behaviours, should aim to be sincere (not make promises that cannot be kept).
The leader should clearly outline what they want the other person to do or achieve,. They should also understand what the other person wants to get out of this situation, and consider the benefits the person will receive by implementing the suggestion.
When the request for correction is made, it should be made in a way that emphasises the personal benefit to the person rather than to the leader or the company.
Carnegie wrote his book back in 1936 – almost 80 years ago. It’s interesting how some things in life never change despite the advances our societies have made.
When influencing the people around us, it is important to remember that the key is positivity. All the principles emphasise the positives of a person rather than dwell on their flaws.
It is not easy when things get heated and timelines are coming dangerously to an end to remain this calm. But instead of throwing a fit, consider if we focus on a person’s positive attributes and their ability to do better.
Remember, shouting never solves anything. Rather than nurturing resentment and making others feel offended, aim to make a change through encouragement and honest interest in the other persons’ perspective.
The most influential and well respected leaders in history managed to master this and this is what made them great.
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Eva is the Research & Development leader at Leaderonomics. She believes that everyone can be the leader they would like to be, if they are willing to put in the effort and are curious to learn along the way, as well as with some help from the people around them.