My fiance is a biologist who works on environmental projects with adolescents and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Last weekend she told me about problems she was having with one of her groups of students.
A few days later, she told me she solved the problem by threatening to remove the students from the training program.
Suddenly these students who had been disobedient a few days ago completely changed their behavior.
My fiance told me that threats were the only thing that would work with these students, that based on their backgrounds, it’s the only thing they would respond to.
I have my doubts.
Fear can be a great motivator but does it really last? And aren’t there more positive ways to reach people?
I’m not trying to be critical of my fiance. I know she’s doing the best she can under challenging circumstances.
And I have no idea if I would do any better under the same circumstances.
Still, I ultimately believe that we can and should try to reach and influence people from a positive mindset. That lasting change and influence comes from positive life affirming interactions with others.
You don’t have to be a teacher or a parent or a supervisor to positively influence others. We all the the opportunity to inspire greatness in others, to inspire them to lead meaningful lives.
But how do we do that? Here are four possibilities:
Expect The Best From Other People
People often give us exactly what we expect from them.
You’re probably familiar with the famous research study involving first grade teachers.
Before the start of the school year, the teachers were told which of the students were high performers and which were low performers.
At the end of the school year, the high performers did much better on an IQ test than the low performers.
Except the teachers had been lied to.
The truth is that there was no difference between the groups of students at the beginning of the year. The teachers ended up creating the IQ differences between the two groups based on how they treated them.
Subsequent research studies have confirmed just how powerful expectations are.
If you want to inspire greatness in other people, then treat them as if they’re already great.
Expect the best from others and that’s exactly what they’ll give you. Expect the worst from them and you may be the one who ends up suffering the consequences.
Learn To Give Positive Feedback
Several years ago, I returned to school to work on an elementary education teaching credential.
During our student teaching, we were required to have a number of our lessons observed by an experienced teacher. Afterwards, the teacher would give us feedback on our lessons.
I was lucky. The woman who observed my lessons was a genius at giving feedback.
Here’s what she would do.
After the lesson, she would first ask me what I did right. Of course, as a typical self-critical person, I would struggle with this.
So she would often step in and give me a long list of things that I did right.
What she would do next was amazing. She would tell me “Now here are some suggestions for things you can do next time to make the lesson even better.”
Why is that genius? Notice her careful use of language.
There’s absolutely nothing negative or critical in her words. Nor is she telling me what I have to do or what I should do. She’s making a suggestion for improvement.
And after having built me up with lots of positive feedback, do you think I was ready and willing to listen to her suggestions and take them to heart? Absolutely!
We have opportunities to give feedback to others all the time. My suggestion is to do it in a way that builds them up, and that inspires them to make positive changes, that inspires them to greatness.
Learn to Listen
As a life coach, one of the most powerful tools I have is the intention to truly and deeply listen to my clients. If you’ve ever experienced true, authentic listening, you know how powerful it can be.
The ability to truly listen to others isn’t something you’re born with.
It’s a skill. It’s something you can learn.
If you want to truly impact someone for the best, if you want to inspire them, learn the skill of listening.
No doubt you’ll be giving them one of the best, most valuable gifts of their life.
Live Your Life As An Example
You may have heard the story of the mother who brought her son to Gandhi because he was eating too much sugar.
She wanted Gandhi – his idol – to convince him to stop. But all Gandhi did was to tell the mother to come back in two weeks.
The mother did as instructed and two weeks later Gandhi directly told the boy to stop eating sugar. The boy promised he would change his behavior.
The mother was obviously perplexed as to why Gandhi made her wait two weeks. Gandhi looked at her and said “Two weeks ago I was just like your boy, eating too much sugar.”
No one listens to a hypocrite. If you want to inspire greatness in others, then become great yourself.
And by the way, greatness doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary.
Greatness is about being authentic, about leading a meaningful life, about leading a life of significance. Greatness is about how you treat those around you.
Inspire others based on your own life, your own actions, your own words and deeds. Become the type of person that you want others to be.
I’ve never met my fiance’s students. I’m sure that many of them come from challenging backgrounds. And I’m sure that many of them aren’t easy to deal with.
I imagine that you have similar people in your life. My suggestion is to not give up on them. Instead look for a way to inspire the greatness within them, the same greatness that is within you.