Respect Is a Two-Way Street

I had an epiphany the other day. It was caused by one of those mundane things that usually goes unnoticed, but on occasion can grab and shake you vigorously. This bolt from the blue happened while queueing in a well-known supermarket.

I watched the cashier deal with the customer in front of me. If she was trying to hide her dissatisfaction, she was failing. Picking up each item with a sigh, she’d swipe it across the scanner, and then deposit it unceremoniously on the counter.

Most of us have interacted with – or perhaps even been – a disengaged employee at some time or another, so what made her so remarkable?

Absolutely nothing. It was the little poster stuck to her work station that got my attention.

The six golden rules of customer service

It looked like a brightly coloured set of rules you might see in a kindergarten library, with a smiley face and large, bold typeface.

I took a closer look. Smile. Say “hello” clearly. Ask the customer if they found everything they were looking for … cash or card? Keep smiling … and so on it went. The six rules for dealing with a customer, spelled out simply and clearly.

Missing the target

Here’s the lightbulb moment. This is a human being with feelings and aspirations. And these golden rules spoke to neither.

It’s not surprising that people resent “learning” that simply instructs or dictates. Employees respond better to coaching that engages them in a personal and respectful way.

What you say vs how you say it

At Cognician I recently had the privilege of working on a digital coaching program for young people entering the job market. The program was created to help school-leavers and graduates develop the fundamental skills they need.

Coaching young people can be tricky – if the tone isn’t just right, the learning opportunity is weakened. Like the example of the disgruntled cashier, an important message could easily be sabotaged by the wrong delivery.

The challenge was to get across simple concepts and information while engaging the learner in a meaningful dialogue.

This program deals mostly with essential workplace skills, such as communication. For example, many of us believe we’re effective communicators, but this is not always the case. So how do you coach someone to do something they think they’re already skilled at?

Over many iterations we created a program with the voice of a mentor rather than a commander. Using the principle of guiding, we let learners arrive at vital knowledge themselves, rather than shovelling it in with a spoon.

If the getting there was as important as the answer, it meant the experience would be engaging. Or so we hoped.

The payoff of respect

We sat with bated breath when the first courses were tested with our target audience. When we got our feedback, we knew we’d hit the sweet spot.

Not only did our testers find the learning engaging and thought-provoking, but they found it directly relatable to their experience. To quote one tester: “I have been in that situation – I have been that person.”

What can we learn?

If we want our learning to stick and activate behavior change, we need to engage, not dictate.

Lists have their place, but when it comes to changing behavior, they’re the equivalent of a blunt instrument wielded with force.

When we want to get the best out of people, how should we approach them? Like a corporal shouting orders, or a coach who can empathize and guide?

The next time you approach the design of an automated coaching program, stop and consider who will be using it. How does the content, style and tone of the learning material resonate with them? How can you acknowledge and build on what they already know? A little respect can go a long way.