Years ago, a boss told me earning a management position would be too difficult for me. I didn’t look the part. I didn’t act the part. I didn’t “manage up,” which to me meant “kissing up.”
So I worked my butt off to prove him wrong, and to prove something to myself.
You want your employees to be successful.
So when you — or they — set a goal, or undertake something difficult, you encourage them. You focus on the positives. You praise their potential. And you downplay the difficulties.
After all, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that a goal they want to achieve is extremely — maybe almost impossibly — hard to accomplish.
Even though that’s exactly what they need to hear.
A 2018 weight loss study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that I’ve referenced before shows that clearly describing the difficulties a person will face can actually increase their perseverance and resolve.
One phrase in particular makes people try harder, and stay the course longer:
This will be really hard for you.
The participants were split into two groups. One group received standard morale-boosting: Lots of encouragement, lots of positive reinforcement, lots of “You can do it!”
People in the other group were told they possessed very little self-control — and that their genetics would actually work against them.
‘It’s impressive and encouraging that you are taking this step to improve your weight and health,” the researchers told them, “but [you need to] understand the daunting challenges you’re facing.”
With that group, the intent wasn’t to discourage. The intent was to make sure they knew it would be really hard. That they would face challenges and setbacks. That, sometimes, they would probably feel like giving up.
When times got tough, they weren’t surprised. Instead, they knew struggle was part of the process.
Which made the challenge easier to overcome.
And led to the people in the “this will be really hard for you” group losing more weight than those in the “you can do it!” group.
How to Strike the Right Balance
While providing an honest description of the difficulties is important, don’t start there. Don’t start with what the researchers call a “sobering description of the challenges.”
Start positive: Show, by your enthusiasm, that you think your employee, your friend, or your child is capable of achieving big things.
Then talk about the work involved. Then can talk about what he or she will need to learn. What education might be important. What experiences might be important. How effort, perseverance, and hard work will be required.
And how setbacks will be part of the process — after all, every successful person has failed. Most have failed more than the average; that’s one reason they’re successful today. Take Musk: He’s failed, many times — yet also has a history of overcoming setbacks.
Make sure they understand that challenges, roadblocks, and setbacks are just part of the process.
Because where achieving big goals is concerned, that’s the magic formula: Expecting adversity. Expecting roadblocks and challenges. Expecting, sometimes, to fail.
Knowing that times will get tough makes it easier to keep going when times actually do get tough.
Because tough times are part of the process.
While there’s a fine line between setting realistic expectations and dampening someone’s spirits, staying on the right side of the line is easier when you also describe how you will help that person achieve a daunting goal.
So when achieving something will be really hard for someone you know, don’t just encourage. Say “This will be really hard for you.”
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