It’s impossible to win anyone over by shouting at them.
You never change someone’s mind by attacking them.
Sure, you might get momentary cooperation. You might get temporary control. But over the long haul, you only change minds by listening with respect to the other person’s fears, hopes and priorities, and then clearly and kindly sharing your own point of view. And real understanding is generally not a one-and-done deal – it’s an on-going conversation that may need some space.
Yes, this approach takes time. But, know what? It works.
I’ve been called into so many dysfunctional offices where there’s some autocrat – could be at the C-level, could be at the office manager level, might even be at the receptionist level – whose bullying attitude and control issues threaten the entire success of the organization.
[I don’t particularly like these assignments but I take them because the relief people ultimately feel is profound.]
What I’ve learned is that most human beings – yes, bullies, too – really want to know, down deep, that their life has mattered. That all of their sacrifices and difficult choices have meant something. [And I did a webinar for the Harvard Business Review on bullies in the workplace in case you missed it.]
Given the technological advances of the last fifty years, it’s harder and harder for the average Joe to feel like it all matters. Any of us can be fired at any time for any reason – or no good reason at all. Employees have moved from being an organization’s best asset to becoming their largest liability, so cuts happen frequently and seemingly willy-nilly. I once worked with some executives downsized from an organization who, in its big company wisdom, decided to save money and boost profits by getting rid of every employee who’d been at the firm for more than fourteen years. In one fell swoop, the entire organizational memory was wiped clean.
Made zero sense to me, and all those let-go people had an existential crisis, wondering if all of those late nights, bad hotels, Sunday night planes and skipped birthday parties were worth it.
What’s missing today amongst the powers that be is an understanding that belonging is such a critical human need. When I start working with new clients, I ask them to do an exercise to list their top values. Nine times out of ten, people choose things like “being connected”, “belonging”, “being with”.
This is the reason folks stay late, work on weekends and say yes to travel that takes them away from their families – not because they’re getting paid, by and large, but because they care.
Belonging is often the way people feel like what they do matters.
Yesterday I had coffee with my old friend Tom, and we got on the subject of being hungry. Tom said, “You know, when you’re really hungry, you’ll eat anything. You don’t care what it is, you don’t care where it came from, you don’t care who’s serving it – you’ll eat it because you’re famished.” Wise man, my friend Tom is.
And it’s true. If you’re starved for belonging, you’ll quickly join any group that will have you as a member.
Their goals will become your goals. Their needs will become yours. Their aims and intentions will become yours.
Because they feed you.
That’s why shouting at folks in an attempt to persuade them doesn’t work. Because you’re shouting about policy or politics or faith or beliefs or performance and the other person is – in their heart of hearts – thinking about belonging. And what they might have to do so they won’t figuratively starve.
So if you find yourself wanting to shout down someone else, here’s what you do instead, whether you’re at an office, in a home, on the street, protesting, marching, gathering, singing, shopping or navigating rush hour: Listen. Invite someone to listen to you. Look them in the eye. Tell them why you believe what you do. Model open-mindedness. Find common ground. Include them.
Because shouting may get you attention for a minute but it rarely gets you the change you seek.
Kindness and openness almost always, however, does the trick.