By Kathy Spearing | May 22, 2020


So much of what we’re experiencing with COVID is new territory for everyone. As we continue to get a handle on the pandemic and the health matters facing millions around the world, we struggle to find our footing as we prepare to return to work.

An abundance of information is being broadcasted every day, with guidance for what you should and should not do at the local, state and federal levels. And as the pandemic continues to evolve, so does the way in which we are expected to behave.

Wearing masks, keeping social distance and washing our hands seem like mundane tasks. However, the innate reaction of being told to do something or alter our behavior in some way often times drives people to do the opposite—even when the reasons to comply are to help the good of the people.

Now we are not debating politics in this post; we are merely discussing the concept of behavior—for our purposes, behavior in the workplace. What approach is best suited to get the actions or buy-in that you need from your team? Simply telling someone to change their behavior is not always the best way.

I came across a Harvard Business Review article that discusses this topic. I thought the way they cover persuading people to persuade themselves was interesting. Check out the 3 Ways to Persuade Professionals to Change Their Behavior below.

  1. Identify a disconnect.
    Professionals want to feel in control of their actions. If you point out a misalignment to what they are doing—versus what they are saying or thinking—you will likely get them to stop and consider why that gap exists. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Most people want to practice what they preach. So, if you point out that they are not doing that, they may reconsider the behavioral change you are requesting. Whether that means meeting with people virtually instead of in-person or taking over a project for someone who is on FMLA, if you walk them through why the change makes sense, they’ll be more likely to adapt.
  2. Ask questions.
    Instead of telling someone to do something or change something about their actions, try making your request in the form of a question. The article states, “Questions shift the listener’s role.” Putting the onus on your team member to respond with what they think should be done will likely impact their behavior. Does it make sense to continue huddling up in a small meeting room when we can hold a video conference? What would happen if someone you loved got sick? Instead of saying, “we’re no longer holding in-person meetings,” the approach of asking a question can help to persuade their mindset and behavior.
  3. Take baby steps.
    Any time you implement some sort of change, there is likely to be push-back or challenges. Coupling that with an unprecedented pandemic leaves people with fear and anxiety. Since we are all navigating the changes around us as delicately as we can, it really helps to start small. Instead of requesting every person to come back to the office at once (which wouldn’t be feasible for social distancing guidelines at this point), first start by having your team come back a couple of days a week at first and continue to work remotely the other days. Or, instead of implementing an entirely new system into your operations, begin with one feature to test out how it’ll get accepted into everyday practice. Whatever the change may be, taking it one step at a time will help others adapt to that change.

What are some other ways to persuade people to alter their behavior or actions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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