Dale Carnegie on Coaching Lean Six Sigma Professionals

As many books as I’ve read in recent years (around 30 so far this year alone) I haven’t read one of what most would consider an essential for anyone working with people, which pretty much covers all of us unless you work in a zoo! The book I’m referring to is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

When you consider what we do as Lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals, especially people like myself who are Master Black Belts (MBB) coaching belts and champions through projects and deployments, we spend most of our time interfacing with people, and in many cases try to convince them to do things to benefit their programs and projects. In a way, we spend most of our time trying to get people to do things for their benefit, which sometimes they don’t readily see.

With that in mind, how do we get people to do what we think they should do to get to a desired result? Carnegie writes in his book about this exact topic, starting with three fundamental techniques for “handling” people. The book was written in 1936, and perhaps back then the term handling was appropriate, but a more contemporary way of describing this technique is perhaps effectively “working with” people. In a sense, some of what Carnegie describes is similar to the concepts found in emotional intelligence, specifically having empathy for others. The three principles Carnegie prescribes are:

1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.

2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.

3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Avoiding Criticism

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as an MBB is avoiding criticism. I often find it challenging to look at the work of belts I’m working with from the perspective of where their knowledge and experience level is. From my MBB perspective the work of most belts is almost always lacking, but the point is not to bring them to my level of experience and expectations as if I were working the project, but instead to view the work from their level. This can be challenging and often leads to criticism that does little except create potential conflict between myself and the other person.

Ultimately, if our goal in coaching another person is to change their behavior to achieve a desired result we do little in accomplishing this with criticism. Carnegie suggests, “Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness.” From an emotional intelligence perspective what Carnegie is describing is empathy. We need to see things from the other person’s perspective in order to understand and help.

Feedback and Recognition-The Holy Grail of Changing Behavior

Carnegie describes this principle as the “big secret” of dealing with people. In a previous post I discussed the concept of positive reinforcement, and how research suggests that 80% of behavior is driven by what we do after a behavior happens, more specifically, by positively reinforcing desired behavior rather than punishing what we don’t want we are more likely to get others to demonstrate the behavior again.

Giving honest and sincere appreciation is one of the best ways I’ve found in getting those I coach to repeat the behavior I’m focused on helping them develop. Instead of focusing on what they have done wrong, spend your effort on the positive side. The old adage of “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar” holds true for people as well.

What’s in it for Me? Tapping into the WIIFM Factor

When it comes right down to it we really are focused on what’s in it for ourselves most of the time. Sure, from time to time we do want to help others succeed, but ultimately we believe we have to take care of ourselves first before we can help others. Carnegie argues that to influence others we need to talk about and understand what they want, and show them how to get it. This again points back to emotional intelligence and having empathy for others by looking at a situation from their point of view.

Carnegie quotes Henry Ford on his advice for mastering the art of human relationships. Ford stated, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” To truly understand another person’s perspective we have to get inside their thoughts, ambitions, and desires and view them as the goal we strive in helping them achieve. Carnegie argued back in 1936 that the world was full of grabbing and self-seeking individuals who are focused on only themselves, and anyone who truly strives to serve others has a great advantage.

From my perspective, the world hasn’t changed much since the 1930s-most of us are still self-seeking and centered on only what we want, and anyone who focuses on serving the needs of others will no doubt be surrounded by many people who will help you achieve your greatest ambitions and goals.

Coaching With Compassion

The challenge of coaching is that we are dealing with people who are not creatures of logic, but instead are creatures of emotions. If we were purely a logical being we would just execute instructions that lead to the desired results, but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective, we work in both a logical and emotional realm.

My advice is simple, yet I know from my own perspective it can be difficult to execute in every interaction we have with others. Start by focusing on the positive. If our goal is to help others develop into great belts and champions we are unlikely to do so by spending energy on what they have done wrong. Capitalize on every win you encounter each day by giving praise as often as possible.

Second, ask those you are coaching what they desire from the situation you are coaching them through. Is their desire to achieve certification? Gain recognition for saving the organization a lot of money? Challenge their analytical abilities? To truly understand the situation from the other person’s perspective we need to understand that perspective, which can be as simple as asking a few questions.

Finally, never lose sight on the perspective that it’s not about you-it’s about them! I often times can get hung up on the WIIFM factor myself looking at the situation from how I will gain from this project, program, etc. Those things will take care of themselves in the long run if we always focus on helping others get what they want.

Don't waste the power of your tongue!

In the world we process improvement experts live in, specifically when our focus is on “leaning” processes, we spend a large portion of our time helping people remove waste to achieve the goals of doing what they do better and faster. When we do so the costs typically decrease and the profits go up. In a way it’s how we justify our existence, and why we are worth the money we get paid to do what we do.

Taking a look at our personal lives from a lean perspective, there is a lot of waste that, when removed, leads to a better life. Most of this waste comes from what we say. The tongue has the power to provide value and / or waste to yourself and others. The great thing is you can decide to control your tongue if you want to.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

I recently read a book called The Forty-Day Word Fast by Tim Cameron that takes readers on a 40 day journey to remove toxic words from your vocabulary. In a way this 40 day word fast is an exercise in leaning the waste coming from our tongues. Similar to removing the eight forms of waste from a process, Cameron identifies six forms of verbal waste he guides readers through to remove from their lives. The six forms of verbal waste include:

1. Judgement

2. Criticism

3. Sarcasm

4. Negativity

5. Complaining

6. Gossip

I took the 40 day journey and it was incredibly difficult to eliminate these six wastes from coming out of my mouth, but what may have been more important to this first of many “fasts” to come is that for the first time in my life I realized just how much these six wastes consume my verbiage both orally and written.

In some ways the 40 day journey was a starting point, or baseline if you want to look at it from a process improvement perspective, to measure future progress against. The bad news is I have a lot of work to do to improve; the good news is I can only go up from the low point I’m currently at!

What I realized is that when I spent a lot of time speaking the six wastes my view of the world and those around me plummeted. I was in a foul mood; always focused on the negative; and just ticked off at the world for being so messed up. I was a hard person, and still am on occasion, to be around when these words and thoughts were consuming me.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. Proverbs 21:23

My point in writing this post is that in the world we live and work in it is easy to find yourself being consumed by these six wastes that lead to nowhere, but a depressed state of mind. What would this world be like if there were no judgement, criticism, sarcasm, negativity, complaining, or gossip. Think about that for a minute.

My challenge to you is to help create that world one tongue at a time. Instead of working on all six wastes at the same time, which is incredibly difficult to do as I found out, pick one each of the next six months and focus on reducing that verbal waste, and hopefully over the course of six months you’ll see, and probably more important, those around you will see and hear, a change in what you speak.

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