6 minute read

People Management

Enlisting Cooperation

Last year I graduated from college and took a job in a medium-size life insurance firm. I had always considered myself pretty levelheaded, but I just couldn't figure out how to get along in the work world. I felt like my future at the company depended on the actions of other people, so every time I tried to get a colleague to do something, it was like going into the boxing ring. It turned into a vicious cycle. The more I tried to force things on people, the more I alienated them. Then they were angry, I was angry, no one got anything done, and the tension in the office became so great that someone had to go. Guess who was the lucky loser?

John, 24, Pennsylvania

During my tenure in the corporate world, I've seen people try all sorts of tactics, from bribery to temper tantrums, to get others to do what they want. Some use their power or position to force lower-ranking staff to comply. In today's fast-paced business culture, many middle managers are too harried and apathetic to stop and consider the best way to encourage true cooperation. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey outlines a number of approaches that individuals use when trying to get something from another person. Covey catagorizes these approaches as Win/Win, Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, and Win. Let me further explain:

  • Win/Win (i.e. “I love you, you love me”): The attitude that a mutually beneficial solution is the best solution because everyone feels good and one person's success is not achieved at the expense of another.
  • Win/Lose (i.e. “I get my way, you don't get yours”): The attitude that someone else has to lose in order for you to win, like in football games and lawsuits.
  • Lose/Win (i.e. “Go ahead, have your way with me. Everyone else does”): The attitude of people who are quick to please or appease, repressing their true feelings and seeking strength from popularity or acceptance.
  • Lose/Lose (i.e. “I'm going to win or die trying”): The thinking that results when two Win/Lose people become stubborn, vindictive, and blind to everything except their desire for the other person to lose.
  • Win (i.e. “Do what you need to do; I can't be bothered”): The attitude that it doesn't matter whether the other person wins or loses, as long as you get what you want.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every interaction in the cutthroat world of corporate business has to be Win/Lose. But because you work with the same colleagues every day, this attitude (and the manipulation and coercion tactics that often go with it) can cost you big time. Before you know it, your work relationships will have soured, and your corporate persona will be seriously tarnished. In most cases, you'll be more effective at eliciting your colleagues’ cooperation and, ultimately, getting what you want if you make Win/Win your personal philosophy.

Win/Win outcomes are easier to achieve when you proactively consider ways that the other person can benefit from cooperating with you. That said, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to enter a negotiation by expressly stating what you want. You might have heard the story of the salesman who greets a prospect by announcing, “I want to tell you about a great new product that has a thousand new features, all for the low price of…” The prospect stops listening as soon as she hears the words I want and slams the door in the salesman's face. If you're going to remember anything from this section, remember this: Other people don't care what you want. They want to know what's in it for them. As the initiator of a negotiation, you have to assume that while you may be looking for the Win/Win, the other person is interested only in the Win. Need her cooperation? Make her want to do what you are asking.

How do you do this? First, examine the situation from her point of view and determine her priorities. Then, in your initial approach, talk about what she wants and how your proposal can help her get it. Here's an example of this strategy in action: A former job of mine was to coordinate press interviews between executives and journalists. One afternoon, I had to persuade a high-level sales executive to postpone a visit with a client and spend an hour talking with a journalist on deadline. However, I understood that the sales executive wanted to spend his time closing deals, not chatting it up with someone who couldn't pay him. So I approached my request this way:

“You mentioned that we sometimes lose deals because we can't demonstrate to potential clients how our products are covered in the press. Here is our chance to change that. Ordinarily I wouldn't ask you to move your meeting, but the client is available for lunch on Friday. The article with your interview will have appeared online by then—why don't I get you a copy to show him?”

In this way, the sales executive saw how talking with the journalist could help him get what he wanted: more closed deals. He realized that spending an hour now would pay huge publicity dividends later on, and that it might even help persuade the client he planned on visiting that week. I got my interview done on time, and the sales executive met the client for lunch armed with an extra weapon. Win/Win!

It doesn't matter if the other person actually wins by cooperating with you, as long as she feels like she's winning. For instance, you can frequently achieve a positive outcome by appealing to a person's moral code. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, motivational guru Dale Carnegie claims that people like to feel as though they are doing the proper, unselfish thing. If your proposal will make the other person feel good about herself, she'll be more inclined to cooperate. To take the example above one step further, suppose the sales executive needed a bit more convincing to change his schedule and meet with the journalist. I could have played to his desire to do what's best for the company with the following response:

“Our company has gotten some undeservedly negative press lately, and we're lucky to be in a position to counter it with some positive messages of our own. When unflattering articles appear, our stock goes down. But when spokespeople like you get out there and talk with the media about the good things we're doing, the reverse happens!”

Win/Win scenarios are usually within reach when you take the time to think about what you're asking of someone and how you're going to ask it. Imagine yourself in the other person's position and treat her as you would want to be treated under the same circumstances. Keeping in mind that the end goal is cooperation, remove your ego from the situation and don't insist that people do things your way. Your colleagues will be more likely to pursue a project if they have a say in how it's done, so instead of bullying them into following your lead, outline what you need and ask for feedback on the best way to accomplish it. After all, if the work gets done and everyone is happy about it, it's a Win/Win regardless of how you arrived there.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareer Advice: Career 101 for Recent Graduates, New Hires, and Would-be Corporate ClimbersPeople Management - Enlisting Cooperation, A Touch Of Sweetness, Creating Positive Relationships, Dealing With Difficult People