Rethinking how you motivate others

2010

If you try to motivate people through insults and intimidation (and I know a few of you do), you may want to think about the ripple effects of your actions.

As has been widely reported in the media, a second contestant from the TV show "Hell's Kitchen" has committed suicide.

It's a gray area to correlate these suicides with the belittling comments and intimidation from the TV Show's host, Gordon Ramsey, but it's not a gray area to realize that our actions have ripple effects.

For example, I recall a time when a manager came to me quite distraught. Her senior manager had insulted and belittled her in front of her co-workers and subordinates. The senior manager thought it would motivate her to strive for higher levels of performance, but it didn't work. She told me "I can hardly face my team. I don't even feel like showing up to work any more."

Anyone who supervises others should adhere to a long-standing and excellent management principle: Praise in public, criticize in private.

Sadly, many managers aren't taught this—they're only praised for the results they achieve, no matter how they achieve them. When this happens for any length of time, the idea of "the end justifies the means" gets reinforced. And what's the ripple effect of that? It's easy for managers to morph into bullies.

Do they intend to become bullies? Not usually. According to Executive Coach and author Laura Crawshaw, in her book Taming the Abrasive Manager, bullies don't see the impact of their behaviors on their co-workers. According to Crawshaw, "they are blind or ignorant or both. When it comes to emotions, abrasive bosses are blinder than bats."

Crawshaw goes on to point out that bullies truly believe they are not causing damage, but rather striving to achieve results—and don't understand why others aren't striving as hard.

As a case in point, I recently received an email from a senior manager who took a DISC Assessment for an upcoming teambuilding workshop. The person had issues with how she was described in her profile, saying the verbiage put her in a bad light.

After looking at this manager's profile (I should clarify that I am certified in DISC and have been conducting DISC workshops for 15 years), I noted she scored very high in Dominance (get it done now) and very low in Steadiness (steady pace). In other words, she has little patience for slower moving people and isn't afraid to tell them so.

In her email, she was in utter disbelief that others might view her the way the DISC report described. It's not that she disagreed with how the report described her behaviors (she actually agreed with the report's findings), but rather how others might view those behaviors.

She was further offended at the suggestion that she should exhibit more patience and ask questions of others to ensure they understand their assignments.

I'll be more diplomatic in a workshop, but my initial thought after receiving her email was "the truth hurts, doesn't it? You don't see yourself as being a bully, but many others do."

The core issue here is how we try to motivate others. Bullies don't see themselves as bullying, but trying to out-bully a bully is not an effective approach (you can't out-bully a bully). People who are harsh on others must be shown that their negative words and actions have long-term negative consequences. They must be led - not pushed - into seeing a bigger picture. It's really an education process that must occur.

Is that process easy? Hardly. Driver-type personalities are usually more focused on winning than anything else. Therefore, they often ask "why take time to learn another (longer) way to get results when my 'in your face' intimidation is working fine?"

Take Gordon Ramsey, for instance. He knows that confrontation creates controversy, that controversy creates ratings, and with higher ratings he can charge more for advertising and make more money. Still, it's high time someone showed him the true cost of his quest for results.

No, I won't draw a direct correlation between his obnoxious behavior and the suicide of two of his contestants. But I WILL state that I believe his comments were a contributing factor in both of those deaths. And now, this week a wife has lost her husband and three children have lost their dad.

Bottom line: Being in a position of authority over someone is a great responsibility. Think about the ripple effects of your words before you use them. To you they might be "just words" … but they can leave scars that never heal, even though those scars cannot be seen.

If you don't care that your negative words might affect people negatively, then I suggest you shouldn't be a manager.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

Wonderful post, Dan. Passion, enthusiasm, obsession with results, and the like are never, ever, an excuse to disrespect another human being. One thing disrespect is not - motivating. It just leads to resentment, disengagement, passive-aggressiveness and presenteeism on the part of the disrespected.

peter vajda atlanta, ga

When a manager is excessively or unnecessarily aggressive, that's bullying. Unfortunately, such managers think bullying is what 'strong leaders' do, and so do the people around them. Bullying triggers the stress response in those bullied and in the bystanders, and stress hormones reduce our ability to think and communicate effectively. In addition to all the other problems that bullying creates, it causes people to make more mistakes and to function less productively. More mistakes and lower production? That's not what any manager or organization wants.

Anne McTavish Calgary, Alberta

If you don't have anything good to say about someone, don't say it. Treating people with respect and dignity should be the cornerstones of personal and professional relationships and in many of the inquiries that I have had about workplace bullying, some of the incidents occured because the person was not treated with respect or dignity. The problem with using insulting and intimidatory language or behaviours is that some of those to whom it is directed, may adopt those practices, and hence the cycle of violence continues with devastating affect. Keep up the good work Dan.

Bernie Althofer Brisbane, Qld, Australia