4 Directives to Influence Behavior

Instructions since childhood were designed to teach and guide us. Over the years we have noticed remarkable similarities between the directives given in our youth and the requests made of us as adults. In retrospect, their effectiveness varied based on our circumstances and development level. The same is true at work. Leaders and managers give instructions using the same memorable phrases. The objective of these phrases is to elicit our compliance with their demands, commands or requests for action.

“Do as I say, because I said so”

People have used a variety of commands to get the kind of behavior they want. “Do as I say, because I said so,” is the classic power phrase of authority. Parents use it often. The power can be based on position, where they can administer rewards or punishment if someone fails to comply with their request. The sentence could easily end with,” or else.” The job, held by the speaker, confers position power. They are the boss, the parent, the person in charge and when they speak they want others to jump quickly into action. The person using this phrase does not wish to be questioned or challenged. People will also use the specter of fear, brute force, physical strength and threats to persuade people to fall in line. Threats may be physical or assaults to someone’s character or reputation.

Frustrated parents and managers have used this phrase when they run out of answers. When they are busy or in a hurry, they resort to this language to end conversations. They do not want to discuss the matter anymore. They want people to listen, obey and stay quiet.

“Do as I say, because I said so,” is a technique that can influence a number of people. When matched to the right individuals, it is very effective. It is useless when delivered to the wrong person.

“Do as I say, not as I do”

Some people adopt a hypocritical style to exert influence on others. They recognize that they don’t have the discipline or integrity to practice what they preach. Yet, they insist that others listen and obey their dictates and commands. This works in situations stated in example number one, however, the inconsistency and hypocrisy will render it ineffective in some cases. The resistant ones will not comply and they will use the leader’s hypocrisy as justification for refusing to follow their commands.

There is a certain amount of arrogance associated with telling someone to do something that you are not committed to do. The advice may be solid, but the absence of following your own advice, may compromise its impact. They may do what you say, but only when you are watching.

A powerful story was told about Mahatma Gandhi at http://www.witandwisdomstories.com. The blog post “Mahatma Gandhi’s salt less diet” contains the following story. “One day an anxious mother, along with her son visited Mahatma Gandhi. She told Bapuji, “My son is suffering from a kidney disease, Bapuji. I am really concerned. I took him to the doctor and the doctor has advised him to take food without salt.” She continued, “the problem Bapuji is my son refuses to follow the doctor’s orders, but if you tell him he will listen as he worships you and he will not deny you.” The Mahatma asked the mother and son to see him after a week.

After a week or so, Mahatma Gandhi called the mother and the son to his house. He took the boy aside and looked him in the eye and said” You are very important for your mother’s happiness and your health worries her. It is my wish that you follow doctor’s orders and stop taking salt in your diet.”

The boy who was in awe of the Mahatma was so pleased with the Mahatma worrying about him, agreed at once. He turned to his mother and said” no more salt for me Ma.”

The relieved mother stood puzzled for a while and asked Gandhi “But Bapuji, you could have told him this when we came a week ago, why didn’t you?”

To this Gandhi replied, ”But madam at that time I was taking salt in my diet and it has taken a week for me to give up salt myself. How can I advice your son to eat a diet without salt with a clear conscience? How can I tell someone to do something which I myself do not practice?”

Hypocrisy will not be tolerated in today’s climate of transparency and authenticity. Some will follow this request, but must see the benefit or fear the speaker.

“Don’t do what I did – Learn from my mistakes”

It is well-known that experience can be the best teacher. Rebellion is a natural part of the human spirit. Many of us have received instruction, but elected to ignore it to listen to our own voice or the voices of others. Going down the wrong path has caused us discomfort and ultimately we realized we were wrong. Armed with the experience, we wish to let others know the value of staying on the right path. We don’t want them making the same errors in judgment that plagued our lives. We therefore, become an ambassador for the truth. We say to people,” Don’t do what I did. Learn from my mistakes.”

This is sometimes seen as a tough love message or using scare tactics. Former prisoners have used a” scared straight” philosophy to convince youth to stay away from a life of crime. They feel that education on the negatives associated with criminal activity would discourage youth from hanging with the wrong crowd and making questionable decisions. They take the glamour out of disobedience and use their lives as proof.

Conversations in a corporation may involve older employees telling younger employees about the mistakes they made. These mentoring sessions or coaching moments are an effort to steer less tenured employees toward making better decisions on their career path. There is value in information sharing. That occurs when the different generations in the workplace tell their stories of arrival and survival within the context of the organization.

This approach also works on some people, but not on others. There will always be people who think they are too smart, clever, intellectual, lucky, cool or too good-looking to suffer the consequences of their actions. They will view the sad story, as something that only applies to others.

“Do it like I did it – Follow my lead”

This is normally a very potent approach. It is the lead by positive example model. People will look at you, your reputation and your execution and realize the value of your words and actions. Learning occurs through imitation or modeling behavior. “Let me show you how it’s done, makes “Do it like I did it ” even more powerful. Many times, “Do it like I did it” and follow my example, is not verbalized. Yes, there are many occasions where people will issue these words to give a standard to follow, but often its power is in seeing someone act out the phrase. It is the practice that occurs with or without the preaching that makes it work. It is the example exhibited on a day-to-day basis.

Most of the time, “Do it like I did it” and “Follow my example” are positive exhortations. But, it may not work in all cases. People will imitate and follow negative leaders and negative examples. If the culture of an organization is filled with intimidation and a lack of appreciation, individuals desiring to be leaders will pick up on the signals. They will emulate the same kind of insensitivity broadcast by their leaders.

However, leading by example does not work on everyone. Someone will find a way to discredit your work or assign your accomplishments to favoritism or inequality, they cannot duplicate. These 4 directives to influence behavior collectively have been used to get individuals and groups to act and follow orders. They are spoken to move people to action. However, individually, we have found that they may not work on everyone all the time.

Copyright © 2014 Orlando Ceaser

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