What's the best kind of conversation to have with your team that will persuade them to follow your lead?
Your employees occupy a low-power position in your team's hierarchy. Taking orders from someone in a high-power position whom they haven't grown to trust threatens their sense of freedom. Threat to personal freedom is one of the biggest barriers to persuasion.
As the team's leader, you have no control over the team's hierarchy. You do, however, have control over how you deliver your message. That message can either threaten your employees' sense of freedom or reduce that threat, depending on the language you use.
Here's how it works:
What not to say.
Words like "must" or "have to" threaten your employees' personal freedom. Try to avoid using these, if you can.
Forceful language that threatens autonomy can even lead to a boomerang effect, where an employee ends up doing or thinking the opposite of what you want.
If you use words that threaten personal freedom, take care to avoid denying your employees choice. Freedom and choice work in synchrony. If you have less of one, you need more of the other. When our freedom is under threat, we compensate by seeking greater choice.
A 2011 study showed how being in a low-power position (which threatens freedom) made volunteers prefer an offer of twelve flavors of ice cream (more choice) instead of three. People offered a wider assortment of choice placed less importance on power-based aspects of a new job (which increased freedom).
What to say instead.
Polite language with an indirect request embedded within it softens the edge of an order, as does disguising an order as a suggestion.
Empathy-inducing messages that make people relate personally to a scenario, or tap into an emotional empathic response, can also help to soften the threat to freedom. Emphasizing personal freedom dampens resistance to persuasion.
If you do have to use words like "must" or "have to," counterbalance them with an offer of choice, no matter how small. Always insert words like "you are free to choose../you can decide whether..." into the same sentence.
If you want to persuade your team, never threaten their freedom. If you must threaten freedom, always compensate with choice.
Viktor Frankl's wisdom.
The last word on freedom and choice must go to Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who passed away in 1997. After surviving three concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and losing his wife, his mother, and his brother, he famously wrote: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."