My father has a saying, “if something’s not worth doing at all, then it’s certainly not worth doing well.”
I think that saying captures an attitude pretty well. Have you ever felt as if you were trying to convince someone to do something well – to put their heart and soul into it – and they didn’t really care about it? It probably felt like pushing a string or herding cats because they didn’t think your project or activity was worth doing at all.
It’s All About Respect
I worked with a call centre where the help-desk employees who answered the phones felt like Rodney Dangerfield – they got no respect!
It wasn’t that they wanted the callers to respect them. The callers called in with problems and just wanted quick action. The call centre employees wanted respect from their own internal people – their peers from other departments.
Here was the problem: A customer would call in, upset about a technical problem or a billing issue. About 95 percent of the time, the call centre employee would solve the problem immediately. Everything would be fine. About 5 percent of the time though, the call centre employee would need to involve someone from the technical or billing department within their own organisation. This is where they’d run into problems.
Their coworkers in other departments wouldn’t return their calls – or when they did, they’d be rude. They’d imply that it was beneath them to even be talking to someone from the call centre, and definitely wouldn’t hurry to meet a deadline set up by a call centre employee. They didn’t think that supporting the call centre was worth doing at all – much less worth doing well.
Verbal Persuasion: A Failed Tactic
So here’s the problem: How do you convince people that your issue’s important and that they ought to care?
There’s a common mistake we tend to make. We try to influence people using lectures, sermons, and data dumps. We try Powerpointing and pencil whipping. We try, what psychologists call, verbal persuasion.
We’ve all read the books on “verbal jujitsu” and “getting to yes” but the bottom line is: verbal persuasion just isn’t very persuasive. As soon as people see through our agenda, see that we’re trying to persuade them, they put up defenses. I know I do.
Walk a Mile In Their Shoes
So, what’s a more effective way to change people’s minds? Personal experience is the gold standard. If you want someone to say “Oooh, responding to the call centre employees is more important than I thought”, you’ll need to put them in the call centre – where they can experience what the call centre employees are experiencing.
That’s exactly what we did. We rotated engineers, accountants, and even people from their attorney group through call centre assignments – and it worked! Employees experienced the pressure on the call centre’s front line and they changed their minds. Response rates improved dramatically.
Of course we’re not alone in using personal experience. Think of the popular TV show Undercover Boss, where executives will ‘go undercover’ as a lower level employee to better understand their organisation. McDonald’s has corporate executives spend time each year in their restaurants – cooking fries and handling the order window as well.
The next time you need to persuade someone – your daughter to keep up with her homework, your colleague to return calls from your sales or HR department, or whatever it may be – think about how you can create a personal experience for them. The results could be remarkable!