Welcome to the Business Smoke Break, where I provide small things to do that add up to bigger wins. This month I want to get into team motivation. A tricky subject. Different things motivate people differently. One small thing I have found over the years of running my own teams is the importance of respect. If you don’t give that you can kiss motivation goodbye.

People need the person they look to as a leader to behave in a manner befitting that position. It pains me to admit I have learned this the hard way. There have been times when I lost the respect of my crew and found resistance in getting them to do what needed to get done. When I gave respect to them and to myself the results were pretty amazing.

That’s where three small words come into play. Please and thank you. It astounds me how many people in high-level leadership positions don’t use this. They shout orders like they’re in the military. Today’s younger workforce will simply quit and go somewhere else. The days of working at one place forever and putting up with abuse are long gone. And it’s not always abuse. Sometimes it’s just ignorance. I was working with a guy who is the VP of Sales for a software company. He’s in charge of 22 states and has a whole crew that report to him. When I came to his project, I found him barking orders like a drill instructor. When he turned that on me I told him “Fuck you” and we had a talk about it. Turns out he was having a hard time motivating some of his team. He had been operating from an old paradigm where title and role say “Jump!” and everyone under asks “How high?” Over the years I have noticed the power of adding “please” and “thank you” in getting folks active and I’ve made a practice of it. Those words become one less thing for someone to resist. The new paradigm is “Jump, please!”

Say Please

I find that someone can give me a direct order and as long as there is a “please” attached I have no problem with execution. Give me the same order without it and I become extremely reactive and passive-aggressive, which doesn’t serve anyone. I find myself losing respect for the order giver, which hurts a lot.

So try this. Partner up with someone. Each person takes a turn giving the other an order. Simply say, “Do it!” Put some force behind the voice. Now switch places and the other person gives the order. How does that feel to be on the receiving end?  Not too hot, I imagine. There might even be small feelings of resistance.

Now do the exercise again. This time say, “Do it, please!” Give it a moment to steep then switch places and let the other person try it. How does that feel in comparison?  A little better, I imagine.

Say Thank You

The same is true for “Thank You”. It provides people with a sense of being recognized and appreciated. It’s not a lot but it’s very powerful, and I’m happy to report it goes far. Years ago I worked for one of the fastest growing catering companies in southwestern Ohio. A spectacular crew to work with and an organization that really had their game in place. But the owner would come on site and start barking orders, never once recognizing anyone’s accomplishments and efforts. Only orders and critique. The results were the team dynamic would break down and well-designed systems would falter. More mistakes were made. No one felt appreciated. When it was my turn to run an organization I noticed that when I gave orders and attached a “Thank you” people were more prone to respond positively. I make a practice of using those words out of respect for everyone, including myself.

Now try this. Pick a partner. One person will give the order. The other will be the doer. The order giver will tell the other to give them an object that is readily available, like a pen or a joint. Be sure to use “please”. When they give the object don’t say anything. Just take it. Let that steep for a minute. Switch roles so both sides can experience it. Order receivers, how did that feel?  A little crummy, maybe? Order givers, how did they react to after they handed over the object? A little hurt, perhaps?

Do the exercise again, this time saying “Thank you” upon receipt of the object. How hard was that to say?  Not very. How did it feel to have heard “thank you”? Like being seen and valued? Which feels better – being seen and valued or feeling hurt?

Saying please and thank you may seem like very small things that don’t matter much. But when team members feel seen and valued they begin to perform better. Their motivation turns up rather than passive-aggressive behaviors. Start paying attention to this throughout life. Who uses those words and how do people react versus those who don’t. Be sure to share your findings using #businesssmokebreak. And if you need something funky to listen to while trying this, put on Funkadelic’s classic “Maggot Brain”. Now get back to work, please!

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