Odds are, you’ve worked with a difficult employee or manager at some point throughout the course of your career. At the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Safety 2013 conference, J.A. Rodriguez Jr., CSP, offered attendees tips to find common ground with difficult colleagues.
“I see the room is full today,” Rodriguez, senior manager with Raytheon Technical Services Co. LLC, said to the standing-room only crowd at Safety 2013. “Do we know some difficult people?”
If so, these audience members were in the right place. Rodriguez leaned on his 30 years of experience to outline how to turn “difficult” people into your biggest advocates. “It takes work, commitment and involvement, and it takes power within you to say it’s going to happen,” he said.
Rodriguez shared the following strategies to help attendees sell their safety programs even to the most difficult colleagues:
Relationships require maintenance. “When you have a difficult person and avoid that person, the law of entropy kicks in,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever [rapport] you have with that difficult person will go toward more disorder. If you want to convert people to buy what you are selling, remember the second law of thermodynamics.”
Beware of incremental rationalization. “Incremental rationalization is what we use when we want to achieve a result that doesn’t make sense at the time when we try to achieve it,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s those baby steps we take in order to justify a decision that we otherwise would not be making, and that happens quite a bit at work with difficult folks. It’s not that they started out being difficult, but that they incrementally became difficult through their actions.”
Create information pit stops. Rodriguez claimed that by simply mentioning “9/11,” he could prompt everyone in the audience to recall specific sensory details from that day more than a decade ago. It is unlikely, however, that they could remember a random day like Nov. 9, 2001 in the same way. “That is an information pit stop,” he said. “We are exposed to information all of the time, so our brains have to decipher what’s important and what’s not important. If you can master delivering information pit stops, you will manage the world you live in,” he continued. “The way you do it is you create a situation where [the workers] want to know. Create a circumstance where they want to know, then you deliver that information and it will stick. That’s what you want for a safety program, for the information to stick.”
Understand differences in perception. Rodriguez shared several videos – one of a spinning, illustrated cat and one of two twirling masks – and asked the audience which way they were turning. The attendees, however, could not reach a consensus. Some swore the cat spun counter-clockwise while others claimed it was clockwise; some thought the masks turned in only one direction while others saw the masks going both ways. This, Rodriguez said, points to the power of perception. Understand that your coworkers, even when presented with the same information, may view things very differently.
Persuasion is powerful. The power of persuasion can come into play as well – people want to believe in a certain reality, and that reality can be changed by the power of persuasion. “Whenever you run into difficult people, understand they can probably be persuaded, and it’ s up to you to persuade them. The power of persuasion is incredible,” he said. “The perspective and power of persuasion can change reality in people’s minds. As a leader in safety, your ability to focus your organization on the right things is the way to go.”
Finding the Common Purpose
Rodriguez outlined some of the common workplace characters who might create a difficult situation when it comes to selling safety: the defiant worker, the pessimist, the passive-aggressive, the slacker, the clique, the risk-taker, the newbie and the seasoned/entitled. To sell safety to these employees, the key is to find common ground.
“In safety, focus on selling your program to a few key people, and they will create a common cause for you and everyone will join in,” Rodriguez said. “As a safety professional, understand that common causes and your ability to create them will create an empowerment within your organization. Effective leaders create common cause.”
Rodriguez’s map for selling safety to difficult people looks like this: First, establish the common purpose. Next, identify problem areas, develop a master plan and ask the difficult workers to help you. Give them a part in the play and let them be a part of the production. Next, implement and infuse your program with emotion and passion and build trust. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate and reward positive behavior.
“When something is not working quite right, you just have to ask one question: What is the common purpose? If you can’t think of a common purpose, that’s the problem and that’s your answer right there,” Rodriguez concluded.