The old adage that you can’t change anyone but yourself is only partially true. Ultimately people don’t do anything unless they are willing, so the question is how can we make people want to change? You can start by asking them. It may sound crazy at first, but most of us never even think of asking someone to behave differently. Instead, we sometimes wrongly assume they are completely aware of the impact of their actions, and don’t care or are doing it purposely to rile us up.
People aren’t born mean, arrogant, lazy and angry. They act that way because a need of theirs is not met. It’s not your job to meet that need, but it is your job to point out the behavior and let them know how it impacts you.
Think about it this way: If you were doing something that upset a co-worker or friend would you want to know about it? Most of us would. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that even the most difficult people are so different from you. We are all walking around with unmet needs and as a result, we can all be difficult at times.
The best thing you can do is to bring the behavior to their attention gently and to ask them to behave differently. Here’s a simple two-step technique called the QI.
Let’s say that a co-worker of yours has been refusing to wear a mask in the office despite the rules. You understand that this person may be stressed and disagree with the policy, but you are feeling like your own health is in jeopardy. Letting the frustration build to keep the peace or because you think you’ll lose the fight, isn’t the answer. Instead, address the behavior the minute it happens.
Start with a Q(uestion) to point out the behavior. “I’ve noticed that you are often taking off your mask. What is making you do that?” You use a question to point out the behavior for two reasons: It’s non-combative (as opposed to saying, “Follow the rules!”), and it puts the ball in the other person’s court. By asking a question you make the person see the behavior and explain it.
Wait for your co-worker’s answer. Sometimes the question alone is enough to draw his/her attention to the problem. Unfortunately, you might get a short snappy response or denial of the behavior, like “I do! I just can’t breathe well with it!” If that happens, go to step two: I(mpact). Explain how the behavior impacts you. You can say something like this: “I know it’s very uncomfortable, but at the same time I feel very vulnerable when people don’t have their masks on. I’m afraid of getting sick and bringing it home to my family.”
Then ask for the new behavior. “So I ask that you keep your mask on consistently.” Keep your request short and make it clear.
If the person retorts, “Don’t tell me what to do. Just keep your distance if you’re worried about getting sick,” go to Plan B.
Plan B means that you take it over their head. First, document the exchange and specific cases in which people have violated the policy. Date it and sign it. If there are witnesses, have them sign it as well. Bring it to HR (if you have that capacity in your organization), and give it personally to the chain of command in your organization, all the way to the top.
Plan B is very often effective, but it almost always has ramifications on employee relationships. First, try the QI approach. You may have to ask several times before you break thought, but it’s definitely worth asking.
When it comes to mask wearing or any other behavior that is worrying, we must at least try first to go to the people privately and calmly. Ask for what you need and explain why you need it. Listen to the response and do everything in your power not to get combative. If it doesn’t work, you have your answer: Plan B.