Leadership: How to Change People without Causing Resentment

Getting those around you to change their behaviour can be one of the most challenging tasks a business leader faces.  We know what we would like to change about a person’s behavior but don’t know:  a) How to tell them without them resenting us or b) How to get them to change without telling them!  Faced with this challenge myself recently I went back to the great grandfather of all people skills books; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  First published in 1937, this book was an overnight success and still sells well today.  The following is a summary of some of Carnegie’s tips for changing people’s behavior without causing resentment.


1. If You Must Find Fault, This Is the Way to Begin
If you’re going to find fault in a person, start off by stating their positive attributes and the things that you find good about the person. Then, once you’ve established that there are positive attributes and you can move onto the constructive criticism.

3. Talk About Your Own Mistakes First
Another effective way to blunt the sting of criticism is to tell of your own faults and mistakes first, this is also a very good way of breaking the ice if it is a tense situation.

4. Giving Orders Stops People Thinking for Themselves
If you need to instruct someone to do something, instead of telling them what to do, ask some questions about the problem and lead them to the water of the solution in which they can participate. If you involve them in the solution by asking questions, not only will they do it, they’ll feel involved in the solution. The other benefit is they will have gained a better understanding of the solution and so are more likely to deal with this situation on their own initiative next time.

5. Let the Other Person Save Face
If you’ve just offered up criticism, allow the other person plenty of space to save face. Let them correct the mistake if they can, or at least give them the opportunity to do so. Your belief might be to get rid of the problem completely, but by letting the problem at least have a chance to be solved.  You not only appear fair to the person in question, you appear more humane and a sound leader to everyone else.

6. How to Spur People On to Success
Whenever someone shows any sign of improvement, make it clear to that person – and to others – that you notice and appreciate it. Imagine a travel consultant with below average productivity. After receiving feedback from you they try some new selling techniques and improve their productivity by more than 20%.  Even though they haven’t yet reached the level of the other consultants, Carnegie would encourage you to make a point to praise the consultant at a meeting in front of their peers, stating that they had increased their productivity by more than 20%. Eventually, the consultant will begin to produce at the level of everyone else because they now have the belief they can do it.

7. Talk Them Up
When you introduce someone or mention them to clients or in front of others, always talk them up. Give them a standard to live up to as you introduce them and they’ll try hard to live up to that standard. The reverse is true; if you don’t say much or criticize them as you introduce them, they’ll live up to that lowly standard instead.

8. Make the Fault Seem Easy to Correct
If you’re giving advice to someone about how to correct a problem, try to make the problem seem easy to correct. Offer up lots of pointers that on their own seem quite easy and let that person believe that they’re all easy and that they can do it. Making the suggestions for correcting the fault seem difficult makes the person think that it’s going to be very hard and perhaps not possible.

For more ideas I would recommended How to Win Friends and Influence People as a good read!  The flavour of the content can be best summed up by this quote from the book: ‘If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.’