Let’s say an orthopedist identifies that his patient, an avid runner, has a stress fracture in her foot. Exercise is an important factor in this patient’s physical and mental health, but she needs to take some time off from running in order to heal.
Which do you think would be likely to help this patient stay physically active and emotionally positive?
“You can’t run for the next eight weeks while your foot heals.” Or, “The next eight weeks will be an opportunity for you to strengthen other muscle groups while your foot heals.”
Now, let’s envision that you’re in your office. Your direct report wants to take on a new, challenging project and “own it.” You don’t think he has the knowledge or the skill to have the level of autonomy that he thinks he’s ready for. You could tell him, “I can’t let you run with it,” which may undercut his enthusiasm. You could tell him, “You can’t do this on your own yet,” which may sap his confidence. Or, you could tell him, “Let’s use this project as a learning opportunity. Let’s partner together on it this time, with the goal of you being able to take it on yourself next time.”
You don’t have to be a doctor to work on your “bedside manner.” With a few tweaks to your language, you can engage, motivate, and inspire others to make challenging changes less daunting.