I was talking with someone who was quite put out with their coworkers who were refusing to wear masks. This person has immune-compromised people in their family and tries to take as few risks as possible.
After asking the coworkers several times over a few weeks to wear masks, the conversation got heated. The person said, “I have no respect for them and will not treat them with respect because they have no respect for me or my health or my family’s health.” They make a totally valid point. When we depend on others to help keep our loved ones safe, the lack of control can be infuriating.
However, getting into a battle of wills and making the confrontation personal is not going to help the situation. When we are having a difference of opinion with someone, it’s crucial that we put our personal feelings aside and focus on the outcome that we want.
In this situation, the person wants their coworkers to wear a mask, as required by the organization. It’s a rule that they are not following. If they attack their no-mask peers, they make them feel defensive. The no-mask coworkers are not going to wear a mask because it’s become a point of honor. If they wear a mask, they have lost.
As leaders, when we want someone to do something, we must not make them feel that the course of action that we want is a loss of face or honor for them. We must continue to focus on the desired outcome and not get angry or make the conflict personal.
The coworkers should follow the rules and behave with respect towards others. However, they are not, so some influencing is in order. The model of the rider, elephant, and path from the book Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard can be useful. When facing change ourselves or when helping others through a change, we must deal with the logical rider and the emotional elephant, and we must do what we can to create a structure to ensure the desired behavior, which is the path.
The mask meme above speaks to logic and could influence the rider. There is a reason to wear a mask, and it’s not just to protect ourselves.
A photo of the vulnerable family member could reach the noncompliant coworkers at an emotional level. A picture of a cute baby or adorable grandpa could help the coworkers make a connection and stir feelings of protection.
Finally, if all else fails, a trip to supervisors and HR is required. If logic, respect, kindness, and emotional connection do not do the trick, it’s time to create consequences for unacceptable behavior. This is the path part of the model. We could consider continuing gentle reminders as part of the path, as well, but since it hasn’t worked yet, it probably won’t in this case.
We achieve the goals that we want by keeping those goals in mind and our egos in check. No matter how much someone deserves a piece of our minds, we must instead use our influence on their logic and emotions. Finally, when we can, we create consequences for their actions that are as impartial and fair as possible. What we don’t want to do is create a personal battle.
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