Crucial Accountability QA

Motivating Strangers

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four bestselling books, Change Anything, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


Crucial Confrontations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

In Crucial Confrontations, you give an example of teens parking in your parking spot, and although you pleasantly ask them to stop, they don’t. Unless I missed it, the book never answered how to motivate these teens, whom you don’t really know well enough to figure out how to motivate. I occasionally face problems with people I don’t know and I’d really appreciate some help on how to handle them.

Still Waiting

A  Dear Waiting,

Motivating others is always tricky because you can go wrong in so many ways. So how can you address the challenge of influencing others who you believe should—and easily could—change their behavior, but won’t? In short, what do you do when others don’t face an ability barrier; they just need to be motivated?

You don’t motivate others—you only tap into their existing motivation. Humans have agency. You can’t swing a magic wand or put them under a spell and force them to behave in new ways. They’re going to choose how to act on their own. That means you have to affect what they’re thinking and feeling, because their thoughts will drive their behavior—certainly any behavior as complicated as parking in your parking spot. So, give up on the notion that you’re going to motivate others. Instead, you’re going to tap into their existing wants and desires, plus affect how they think, and in so doing help direct how they choose to act.

Using power, threats, authority, and other forms of compulsion is easy and dangerous. Many people’s primary influence tools are power, threats, and other forms of compulsion. At one point, all of us have been upset enough that we too have employed threats, insults, verbal attacks, or even physical abuse (perhaps when we were kids). The forms of abuse vary from actual physical abuse to hostile glances—but the message is the same. Do as I ask, or you’ll suffer in some way.

Why would some people routinely exert force? It’s what they know. They’ve tried several methods of encouraging and inspiring others, only to see their efforts fall short. So, they reach down into their bag of tricks and pull out their power. One’s authority and control over resources is ever so handy and so easy to use. You can threaten others with little more than formulating a sentence or two. You can put the fear into someone by merely staring at him or her intently with a look of disgust. You can shake your head, tighten your jaw, bark a harsh word, and the other person quickly complies—for fear of what you might do to them. That is, if you have power.

Of course, when you use your power to create a real or implied threat, you can pay dearly. Your relationship may no longer be the same. The nature of the other person’s job may have changed. Now, instead of completing their work—even taking pleasure from completing their job—they’re avoiding punishment. They may need to be closely monitored. They may dislike or even despise you. You may spend countless hours playing cat-and-mouse as the person you threatened gets even with you every time you leave the building. You’ve moved from supervisor to warden and nobody likes that job.

Explain natural consequences. So, instead of quickly employing your power, explain to the other person why you’d like him or her to change his or her behavior. That is, explain the natural consequences currently associated with the wrong behavior. For instance, “When you’re going to be late for a meeting and don’t let us know, we sit and wait for ten or fifteen minutes.”

The natural consequences associated with a behavior make up the reasons you want the behavior to change. Natural consequences occur independent of outside action, and require no authority or power. They also motivate in your absence. Once others understand how their actions affect you, the job, the customers, other employees, and so forth, this knowledge keeps them motivated in your absence.

Be patient. Sometimes you may have to explain several consequences until you find one that motivates the other person. This puts you on a consequence search. You explain the effects on the job—the person doesn’t seem to care. You explain the consequences to other employees—also to no effect. You point out how it affects the customer—now they come around. This, of course, takes us to our earlier point, you can always rely on your power—”I’m going to call the police.” You can always make a threat—”I’m going to tell the boss.” But it’s not the place you want to start. Instead, begin with natural consequences.

So, what happened with the teenagers and the parking spot we talked about in Crucial Confrontations? In truth, that was a slightly altered story. The real story consisted of neighborhood kids letting the air out of my father’s back right tire—forcing him to pump it up with a bicycle pump each morning before going to work. I was in my early 20s at the time and visiting from college, so I gathered the neighborhood kids to play basketball in our driveway. After a few minutes, I drew the kids into my confidence. I explained I had just learned that somebody was letting the air out of Dad’s tire and this had me worried. Maybe they could help catch the offenders and get them to stop. You see, my dad wasn’t all that young anymore and I was worried about his heart. Plus, it made him late a couple of times and his boss didn’t like that. I wasn’t certain these kids were the offenders, but they now knew why I was concerned.

Nobody ever let the air out of Dad’s tire again.

I could have threatened the kids with police action. Instead, I explained the natural consequences associated with the act, and let that knowledge work its magic. Do natural consequences always work? No. Sometimes you have to either back off your request or escalate your methods. Sometimes you simply can’t find anything the other person cares about and you have to draw down on your authority. But this should be your last resort, not your starting place. And by the way, whether you’re talking to your closest friend or an absolute stranger, your best motivational tool is always the same. Explain natural consequences.


Influencer QA

Change Challenger Terri has lost 21 of 50 pounds

Terri Moore

Change Challenger Terri is on her way to losing 50 pounds.

Change Anything
My change goal: Lose 50 pounds by Jan 1, 2012.
Progress: As of April 25, I have lost a total of 21 pounds.

My crucial moments:

  • Moments of stress when I’m tempted to resort to my old, unhealthy eating habits
  • Moments when I’ve allowed myself to get to the state of ‘starving’ and as a result, I make poor food choices

My vital behaviors:

  • Connect with one of my coaches for support. If a coach isn’t available, I give myself a pep talk incorporating my Default Future.
  • Consume 1800 calories per day and drink 64oz or more per day.
  • Prepare healthy meals and snacks for home and work.
  • Exercise 30 minutes, 5-6 days per week.

I attribute my success to a total life change and the six-source plan I’ve created to adopt these vital behaviors. I remind myself that I did not put this weight on overnight so I cannot expect to wake up one morning and it all be gone. If you want to be successful with any change initiative, be prepared to put some time into the change. However, once you’ve incorporated the change plan into your everyday life, the change feels effortless.

Love what you hate: I participate in activities I enjoy so working out is not a burden. In fact, I actually hate it if I have to miss a work out. I’ve learned I’m pretty competitive with myself on this life changing journey.

Turn Accomplices into Friends: I’ve recruited my manager to be my change partner. We have mapped this change to my performance plan for 2011 and she checks in each week on my progress. I have made my weight chart available to her so she can challenge me if she doesn’t notice progress.

I believe my food choices are solid. I stay within the allotted 1800 caloric intake daily. I’ve gradually increased the number of reps I do during strength training. I also plan ahead which removes the possibility of excuses. Here’s an example, I’m taking a class on Thursday night for the next 7 weeks. I normally swim on this night. Since I’m unable to swim, I’m joining the Yoga class my company sponsors each Thursday. I have shared this change with my coaches and team members in my office to keep me accountable. There is power when you open your mouth and tell others what you are doing. I truly enjoy the support I receive from friends and family.

Control your Space: I am also using and it’s very helpful to see the Predicator Meter chart my progress. I get a thrill out of seeing the needle move closer to the ‘very likely’ section.

How I’ve turned bad days into good data: I do not have to travel too much for work; however, it’s a challenge to stick with your diet when your meal is chosen for you at a work event. In that case, I don’t beat myself up. I say this is a one-time event, it’s okay if I have to modify my meal for the day.

Kerrying On

Kerrying On: I Get Goose Bumps

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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Every now and then, someone accomplishes something so remarkable that you just have to talk about it. The accomplishment I have in mind has quietly taken place over the past two and a half decades in some of the most remote, desolate villages on earth. These places are so isolated they’re virtually never covered in any news stories and so desolate they have no rivers, streams, or other forms of running water to help keep them alive. Instead, shallow valleys near the villages fill with water during the rainy seasons and then slowly dry up and fester as the annual drought burns its way through the calendar.

As the months pass, the water holes become contaminated with all manner of microbes. In the midst of this deadly cocktail live tens of thousands of sand fleas. Inside the sand fleas you’ll find even tinier larvae. The sand fleas are so small they’re hard to see unless you scoop them up in a glass of water and hold them up to the light. Even then, if you have no microbiologists or theory of modern medicine, you wouldn’t know what to think of the squirming, translucent creatures within.

The villagers, given no other choices, gather the contaminated water, pour it into earthen pots, carry it to their huts and use it for washing, cooking, and drinking. Once ingested, the sand fleas dissolve, freeing the larvae to enter the human body and transmute into tiny worms that, over the next ninety days, grow into three-foot long vermicelli-like monsters. Then a cruel genetic trumpet sounds. The worms respond to the call by excreting acid to burn a path through their host’s body as they tunnel their way out of their human prison. The pain of this nine-month long exodus is excruciating.

Finally, to give purpose to the hellacious journey, once the worm pokes its head out of its human host, it causes an intense burning and itching that can only be soothed by immersing the infected body part in the local water source—at which point the creature releases thousands of tiny eggs back into the fetid mother water—completing the life-cycle of the Guinea Worm.

For thousands of years, villagers have suffered the pain and debilitating injuries caused by the Guinea Worm’s unspeakable and lengthy journey. Not knowing how to explain the presence of the pest, locals blamed the infected villagers for hosting the worm. According to legend, sinners bring the fiery monster upon themselves.

“Surely she’s an adulteress and that’s why her children are now being cursed.”

“He must have stolen from the village and now he’s paying the price.”

To add suffering to insult, the infected (and now maligned) villagers are unable to work for months on end, so great is their pain as the worm follows its nine-month path. Many starve. Children are unable to go to school, so they remain illiterate. And all of this pain and misery has been going on in parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for thousands of years.

Eventually, the plight of the Guinea Worm came to the attention of scientists who figured out both its life cycle and the cure. It’s simple. Encourage villagers to filter the water and the larvae are eliminated. In cases where people are infected, keep them from washing in the water source. Either way you short-circuit the life cycle and the dreaded worm (which only grows in human beings) disappears in an evolutionary blink. Medicines are not effective. Surgery is out of the question. But get people to filter their water and not wash their sores in the water source, and the creature will become extinct.

As this horrible plight became more public, hundreds of medical professionals and change agents tried their best to eradicate the worm, but with little success. Simply telling people to filter the water proved insufficient. Locals didn’t trust the outsiders. And, of course, not soothing your burning sores in the water, once infected, called for a monumental act of self-discipline.

Twenty-five years ago, when experts at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia turned their attention to the Guinea Worm plight, more than 3.5 million people from 20 countries were still infected. Here was the big question: what change strategy could they come up with that others had been unable to discover? What would it take to get 3.5 million people—along with their friends, family, and neighbors—to filter their water and keep infected villagers from washing their sores in the local water source?

Two years ago, we wrote about this indefatigable group of Carter Center change agents in our book Influencer. We told of how they had been creatively applying a variety of clever change methods. For instance, they learned to gain support from respected, local leaders. Otherwise, nobody trusted them. They used clever posters, created contests and awards (complete with slogan-bearing t-shirts), posted warning signs near the water source, and taught people how to effectively confront neighbors who didn’t follow the rules—to name but a few of their techniques.

By combining change methods, one upon another, the group slowly made progress. Person by person, village by village, country by country, the tiny band of Carter Center experts gradually eliminated the cursed beast. Then, just a few weeks ago, one of our contacts at the center invited us to a special event. The center would be holding a news conference followed by an awards ceremony and a gala. We eagerly booked our flights.

Two weeks later, as news cameras ran and reporters sat poised to take notes, former president Jimmy Carter entered the crowded room. He was beaming with joy.

“We’re proud to announce,” he enthused, “the complete eradication of the Guinea Worm in two new countries—Niger and Nigeria.” From there the former president went on to explain how these two countries have now joined 14 other nations that have completely eliminated Guinea Worm disease. Today, less than 1,800 cases remain.

All of this extraordinary progress has been made under the leadership of a mere handful of people who possess two important qualities. First, they have learned what it takes to both motivate and enable people all over the world to act differently. That makes them members of a rather elite group of true influencers. Second, they chose to apply their skills to millions of individuals who, for centuries, have endured incalculable suffering. All of this, of course, has been accomplished under horrific conditions, for modest salaries, and often far away from home.

Just imagine the good these intrepid change agents have done. If the sufferers who had been infected were to attend a gathering hosted by the Carter Center—say in the fashion of a wedding reception where people stand in line, greet one another, and talk briefly—you might overhear comments such as:

“Thank you, I’m able to work my farm for the first time in over a year.”

“Bless you, my children have now returned to school.”

This line of gratitude would run 24 hours a day—for more than 400 days! And this doesn’t include the millions of people who would have been infected but now won’t be.

When my partners and I first wrote about influencers, we were delighted to discover that when you become a truly effective change agent, you can succeed with the most intractable of problems. We learned challenges that have gone on for generations have been carefully reduced, even eliminated, in select pockets throughout the world.

However, it never occurred to us what might happen if someone applied these skills to something as important as disease eradication. In the case of the Guinea Worm, less than a dozen people (with the help of hundreds of agencies and tens of thousands of volunteers) have led a behavior-change revolution unlike any ever accomplished on earth. They’ve nearly eradicated a horrible disease. Within the next few years, they’ll have completely eliminated it.

I take my hat off to these dedicated, talented, selfless people. At a time when the news is filled with disasters, debacles, and di
sillusionment, it’s a delight to pause and reflect on the work of a handful of selfless heroes who make us all proud. I get goose bumps thinking about what they might do next.