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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 18-Nov-11


Friday 18-November-11

Respectful commitment

At one time, businesses had a fierce chain of command and if you wanted action from someone who was not directly below you, you had to go up and down the management hierarchy. These days, in the the intelligent knowledge economy, it's often a lot looser and you can approach people elsewhere without endless grovelling.

The problem for most of us when asking others to do something is that they can always say no, or at least prioritise us down the list so we get their help long after it is needed. So the question is, how do you get commitment, when it does not have to be given?

Let's look at how things happen. It is surprisingly common for requests to be made in an almost cursory way, for example by email or voice message. It is also common for such requests to go unanswered or receive a curt reply. Why is this? To understand, we need to look at the typical situation in  more detail, for example when a person asks someone in IT to help get their PC working and the response seems sluggish at best. Yet there are some people who seem to be able to get around such problems and are able to get anyone to help them when they need it.

What is going on here is often an unstated, subconscious status game. When I ask you to do something for me, I am positioning myself as superior, even if I do not intend this. If you then comply with my request, you are signalling that you accept this and are positioning yourself as inferior. So what happens is the person being asked fights back by asserting their social position by responding in a way that says 'I am in control, which means I am the superior person'.

A simple way to get around this is to use the politics of respect. Acknowledge them as a person. Show that you realize that they can exert control. Don't just email them with a brief request. Start by going to see them in person if you can (phone if you can't). When you are at their desk, don't tower over them -- kneel down or grab a nearby chair. Acknowledge the person by asking how they are. Show respect and ask for their help, indicating how important this is, not just for you but for the company and its customers (and hence for the other person). It can help to build commitment to send an email afterwards, thanking them for their help and noting what they will do for you.

If they will be acting for you over time, do also sustain the commitment by dropping by or calling up to see how things are going and asking if you can help in any way. Then when they have completed their action offer them public thanks, for example by sending an email that copies others or mentioning their support in your upwards reporting. Doing this will motivate them further, putting you on their 'good guy' list so next time you ask they will be only too happy to ask.


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