It is a sweltering day in July and I am in a nondescript conference room in Manhattan. The air-conditioning has given up the struggle and is muttering weakly to itself in the background. I am perspiring--we all are. But no one cares. We are focusing intently on what the speakers are sharing with us.

What I am learning will help you in business. And with your family. And friends. In fact, you will benefit many different areas of your life.

Would you spend money to teach your employees something that would make them happier but have no business benefit for you?

Most entrepreneurs would not.

Bob Chapman would. And does.

When I visited his plants in Wisconsin and elsewhere managers told me with tears in their eyes of a communications course that changed their lives. Marriages improved. Estranged siblings came together again. Parents and children grew closer.

I ranged between skeptical and downright unbelieving.

So Rhonda Spencer, a senior Barry Wehmiller executive, arranged a special workshop for members of my program. She was a part of it and this was her gift to the class.

Business runs on human relations. The vast majority of conflicts that gum up the working of your business arise because of poor communication. I am not talking about differences of opinion. I am talking about the ill feeling and resentment that arises as we deal inexpertly with those differences of opinion.

Most communication is me-centered.

We have a point of view and are sure we are right. We try to convince the other party of the rightness of our view using logic. Sometimes we may use emotion or even coercion.

The results are seldom satisfactory.

Now suppose we can set our ego aside completely. And we reach out to the other person as one human being to another.

We give up trying to be 'right'.

The results are frequently magical and I begin to glimpse why so many BW team members are queuing up for this course.

Suppose you have an employee who is chronically late. He is a good worker and you would hate to lose him. But his lateness is causing talk and undermining morale.

You have spoken to him and pointed out that his behavior is unacceptable. You have logically pointed out to him that he is hurting his chances of getting ahead. You have created new rules about start times to address the issue and this has irritated others.

The problem persists.

What would you do next?

David VanderMolen and Marsha Burns, instructors for the module, look at us expectantly. The answers are hesitant and most involve an escalation to some form of coercion such as docking pay. There is general agreement that there should be 'consequences' for such 'action'.

They call this the 'baseball bat' approach.

We are all guilty of using this. It is rooted in our desire to be 'right' and our conviction that the other is 'wrong' and needs to be corrected.

Even if this does work it leaves behind rancor and tears the emotional fabric of the workplace. Someone's dignity has been violated and it does not really matter if this was 'his own doing'.

So what do you do?

They suggest using the 'bended knee' approach.

You do not reprimand the errant employee or use your hierarchical authority. You sincerely ask for his help. You tell him of the problem you are having and request him--pretty please with sugar on top--to come to your rescue.

Yes, you are cajoling him to do what he should have done any way. Yes, it grates to do this because we have been conditioned to look at the world a certain way.

But look at it another way.

Would you rather have him comply angrily with your request--which he likely sees as a demand--with all its attendant impact on his mood and willingness to do his best?

Or would you rather have him be pleased that he has done YOU a favor? Come to think of it, you are asking him to change his behavior. So, if he does, he is doing you a favor, isn't he?

What has been damaged by this approach apart from your ego? Think about it.

Does the 'bended knee' work every time?

Of course not.

But it works far more often than the baseball bat. And it works better.

Try apologizing to your partner when you are convinced it is 'her fault'. The result may surprise you.

The catch is that you have to do it sincerely. This is not a 'technique' you can use to manipulate others. It is an entirely different way of seeing the world and this requires some work on your part.

The result is worth it in spades.

Note: The example given is not the one used in the program I attended, but it is similar.

Published on: Feb 19, 2015
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