How to get people to do more of what you want

I started studying piano at the age of five. Since then, I’ve taken hundreds of lessons, performed in dozens of master classes and gotten feedback from all kinds of teachers.

There’s one that, even though it was 20 years ago, stands out in my memory. My violinist sister and I went to a Russian teacher for coaching on a Brahms violin sonata. She had one piece of feedback, which she delivered in a whiny voice, “Why do you play it like that?” — the unmistakable implication being that, regardless of why we did it like that, it wasn’t the right way. Demotivated and discouraged, we never went back.

By contrast, I loved my weekly lessons with Mr. Amada, the piano teacher I had growing up in Iowa. I always looked forward to his feedback and felt inspired to do my best. 

Looking back, I see he had an approach that was extremely motivating. Instead of pointing out what I wasn’t doing (which would have made me defensive), he focused on what I could do more of. The message was: you’re on the right track, just do more of it.

For example, if my rhythm was sloppy, he would say, “You can be even more rhythmic here.”
If I didn’t have enough dynamic contrast, he would say, “Can you make more of a difference between the forte and piano passages?”

How can you use this in your interactions with your team and colleagues?

1. Identify what you don’t like. (Oh, you’re already doing that, good!)

2. Flip the behavior and frame it as what someone could be doing more of. Just like a stick has two ends, every behavior has two sides. 

If someone is quiet and introverted, you can say, “I really appreciate when you speak up and share your opinions in the meeting — can you do more of that?”

Instead of complaining that someone always comes to you with problems, you can say, “This is an opportunity to practice your leadership and come up with suggestions for solutions.”

3. This is key: focus on growth, on what’s possible. If you’re silently coming from a place of annoyance, criticism and judgment that something isn’t good enough, it won’t matter how “positive” your words are. 

And while you’re at it, why not ask those around you, “What would you like me to do more of?”
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