We all Give a Damn 'Bout our Reputations
Warren Buffett said "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." By considering how our actions may affect the perceptions of other people, we tend to act in a way that will burnish the reputation we desire. Most people are intrinsically motivated to want others to think highly of them. However, even people with a reputation for negative behavior (say, ruthlessness) will tend to act in a way that reinforces the reputation they have cultivated.
Dale Carnegie suggests that we can motivate others in the same way. "Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to," he urges.
How might this work? An easy example is the employee who is in a slump of some sort - they have done better work in the past than they are currently doing. In this case, you could say "I know you are capable of better work because you have always done so before. Is there anything unusual that is getting in the way, that maybe I can help you overcome?" In some cases, you may learn of an unintended consequence of some other action you have taken. In others, the employee may not have realized that they were slumping. But in either case, they are likely to be motivated to restore their previous reputation for good work.
In some cases, a person's reputation is said to precede them. Even if you have never met the person, you know of their reputation. In this case, depending on what the reputation is you may either want to reinforce it or to reframe it. For that ruthless person, you might say "I have heard you are a tough negotiator. That can be very useful at times." Or, for the person who often goes in their own direction "I know you have an independent streak. There is one problem I am trying to solve that could use some independent thinking." Any behavior that humans have evolved has a beneficial purpose. Sometimes the secret is putting it to that purpose. Once a person sees that we appreciate its positive purpose, they tend to be more open to the suggestion that there are other situations in which a different type of behavior is more appropriate.
Even in cases where a person has no reputation at all, we can help them establish one. What could be more empowering than to hear, "I know you have never done this before, but I would not ask you to do it if I weren't confident you are capable."
Perhaps Buffett's views on reputation are no coincidence. He says the Dale Carnegie course he took "changed my life." (Dilbert creator Scott Adams had similar praise.) I myself took the course myself about a year ago, and was inspired to write a blog post on each of his principles. These are mostly to reinforce the principles for myself, though it would certainly be rewarding to learn that they benefit others as well.
Photo by Javier