Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.
Dear Crucial Skills,
I have invested a great deal of time and effort trying to help and train a young colleague on my team who joined the organization six months ago. However, my colleague consistently ignores the information I’ve prepared and sometimes does what I’ve explicitly asked her not to do. This approach undermines my trust in her. Not only does her behavior feel very disrespectful and unprofessional, but it has also resulted in additional work for me and other members of my team. I’ve already tried to have a crucial conversation with her, but she simply responds that she “already knows” and can manage on her own. I have escalated the issue, but now I’m wondering if there’s anything I could do to influence her positively.
From your description of the situation, I am not sure what your relationship is with the “young colleague.” I am going to assume you are a team member, but she does not report to you, otherwise I am sure you would not allow her “I already know” and “I can manage on my own” approaches to her job to continue.
When you do not have the organizational authority to require someone to complete tasks, your accountability skills can still wield strong influence.
In this situation, as with most, begin with a diagnosis. Why is she resistant to your efforts to inform her or train her? Start by factually describing what happened, compare it to what was expected, and then ask a diagnostic question.
Try something like, “Jenny, several times over the last six months, I’ve tried to help you, train you, and give you information, but you’ve responded that you already know or you can manage on your own. Last week, I gave you explicit instructions about what not to do and you did it anyway. As a more experienced team member, I feel it’s part of my job to coach you, but it feels like you’re resistant. Am I seeing this right? Help me understand. What’s going on?”
Next, listen carefully. Is the problem one of different expectations? Does she think she is not in need of your help? Does she think you are peers and it’s not part of your job to help her? If the problem is one of unclear roles and responsibilities, use this opportunity to clarify expectations including why you are trying to help her. If she disagrees with your explanation, involve her boss so that each of your roles is clear. If she is defensive and withdraws, or acts irritated and becomes argumentative, make it safe by sharing your good intentions.
Say something such as, “Jenny, I’m not trying to boss you around or control you. I’m just trying to help you be effective in your job and make sure what you’re doing fits with the rest of the team.” Often this simple skill discloses your motive and helps the other person understand you are trying to help, not hurt.
If she is not willing to talk it through with you, go over the issues with her boss. If she is willing to engage with you, instruct and motivate with consequences. Consequences provide the force behind all behavioral choices. We are thinking creatures and act based on the consequences we anticipate will result from our actions. Perhaps a young boy practices the piano thirty minutes every day because he knows if he does, he may one day be a great pianist, and he earns fifteen minutes of video game time for each thirty minutes he practices. His expectation that these desirable consequences will result from his practicing motivates him to practice.
In addition to motivating us, understanding consequences fills out our mental map. Often we don’t understand how our actions affect outcomes. For example, if I become aware that by letting an incoming call go to voicemail I am providing poor customer service, I might be motivated to answer the call by the third ring. Sharing consequences with others can both educate and motivate.
Let’s return to your question. Help motivate your young colleague by sharing the consequences of both cooperating and not cooperating. Here are some examples of what you might say:
“Jenny, I offered to train you in the processes we use and you said you already know them. I understand you have experience in this work, but we have modified and customized some of the steps. So if you don’t know how we do it, it will take longer for you to do your job.”
“Jenny, when I give you instructions not to do something and you do it, the quality of your work suffers. For instance…”
“When you don’t follow the procedures I’ve outlined, it causes additional work for me and my team. To meet the deadlines, we have to redo portions of your work, and that’s not fair to them or to me.”
By sharing the consequences that will naturally occur if she complies, you help give your colleague a lasting motivation to do her job well. For most people, sharing natural consequences will make a difference.
If this information doesn’t motivate her to cooperate, then with great reluctance, involve the boss who has the organizational authority to require her compliance. However, expect that when you resort to imposed consequences to motivate someone, you may strain the relationship and make cooperation in the future more difficult.
We can’t guarantee the desired outcomes in every crucial accountability conversation, but we have found that these skills, when used well, dramatically increase the likelihood of improving results and relationships.
All the best,