One Way to Reduce Others’ Resistance
to your ideas and decisions
When my girls were toddlers, I discovered the power of presenting options. If I said, “Put on this shirt” or “It’s time for bed,” rebellion inevitably ensued. But if I asked, “Which of these two shirts do you want to wear?” or “Would you like to go to bed now or in three minutes?” instead of throwing tantrums, they thoughtfully considered their choices with all the weight and authority of mini monarchs and informed me of their decisions. (Bedtime in three minutes, duh.)
As it turns out, adults aren’t as different from toddlers as we’d like to think. We’re just bigger, more articulate, potty trained, and (usually) more subtle in our tantrums. You and the adults in your life still want the power to choose. Sure, some people are more accommodating than others and easier to boss around. But of course, bossing people around is not leadership; it does not produce long-term results, critical thinking skills, or strong relationships.
There definitely is a time and a place in leadership for issuing directives and telling people what to do. You are not only responsible for yourself, but for a larger team or organization. Therefore, it is your responsibility to make and enforce decisions that take the entire group into account—something individuals within the group who do not have your perspective may not be able to do or even understand.
But when you’re dealing directly with individuals or subgroups, the more choices and autonomy you can provide, the better. Micromanaging erodes trust, creates dependency, and stifles creativity. It will probably also burn you out. (And seriously, you don’t need more ways to burn out!) When you allow people choice and control, however, they become invested—in the work, in the business, in the outcome, and in their relationship with you. And now you’re in a whole new ballgame—a much more effective and meaningful one.
It doesn’t work, though, to simply say, “Hey, do whatever you want!” When presenting options, your job as the leader is to provide the framework or boundaries. Too many boundaries (aka micromanaging) creates frustration and robs others of the sense of ownership. But too few boundaries can be just as debilitating. Having the sky as the limit is overwhelming. Too many options! When you’re teaching improvisation at the piano you don’t say, “Here’s a keyboard. Make something up!” You will be met with terror! You say, “You’re only allowed to use the black keys. Mess around and see what you come up with.” Providing choices within boundaries gives others a sense of freedom AND safety.
The same holds true when you are making a request or asking for a favor. You might be really good at pressuring, guilt-tripping, or bullying others into saying “yes” to your requests, but (surprise!) this leads to resentment. If it’s a true ask (not a directive), make it easy for others to say no. Giving people permission to say no also gives them permission to say yes. You can’t have one without the other. Ironically, the more people feel they CAN’T say no, the more likely they will want to. But the more free people feel to say no, the more free they feel to say yes, too!
This doesn’t just apply to people you work with. It applies to your own self as well. The more you pressure, guilt-trip, or bully yourself into doing something because you “have to,” the more resistance you will feel. Have you ever noticed that as soon as you go on a diet and “can’t” have mocha almond fudge ice cream, you suddenly find it irresistible? Even if you never wanted it before? You’re thinking, “I don’t even like this ice cream!” and yet you want it more than anything in the whole world. (For the record, I’m not a big ice cream person but I DO like mocha almond fudge.)
“Shoulds” and “have tos” are poor motivators. For you. For everyone. They come from outside your identity and personal value system. We use them to impose on people, including ourselves. Give choices within boundaries; then the resistance fades away.
By providing boundaries and choices to yourself and others, you create certainty and autonomy, two requirements for emotional safety. You’ll be helping people make better decisions. And, just maybe, also helping them to act less like toddlers. What a wonderful world that would be!