In the classic folk tale, the Sun and the Wind each believe they are more powerful. They attempt to prove it by betting that they will be able to make a man take off his coat.
First, the Wind blows harder and harder. But the more strongly the wind blows, the more tightly the man clutches his coat to him. Finally, the Wind gives up and lets the Sun try. The Sun shines hotter and hotter, and the man first unbuttons and then takes off his coat because he is too warm.
This is a beautiful metaphor for how to deal with conflict and differences in a workplace. If you come from an ego blustery place, trying to “make” someone do what you want, it generally doesn’t work, even if you are their manager, and they “should” do it.
If they don’t understand why, or see how it is in their interest, or if they feel attacked, you won’t be effective. Instead, they will react defensively and your attempt at change will backfire.
But if, like the Sun, you can beam light and warmth and gently invite someone to change, you are more likely to be heard and to get what you want.
What can you do to promote positive change (and be like the Sun)?
- Don’t assume you know what is going on with them or why they are “acting out” or not performing.
- Share your concern, show them you value them, and ask what’s going on.
- Listen carefully to their answer.
- Make sure you understand, asking follow up questions as needed.
- Problem solve together if possible about what change you need and how you can support them.
- Set clear expectations and get their agreement.
Training and coaching can help.
Sometimes managers and employees need coaching or training to learn effective ways to change the conversation and the outcome. But once people feel appreciated for what they do, and understand what you need, they have a positive motivation to change. My experience has been that with better skills and understanding, you can both get what you want instead of being locked in a battle you can’t win.