How to Train a Resistant Co-worker

Training and supporting others in their professional journey can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. But it can also be one of the most challenging and frustrating because, to support others, you have to provide feedback, and that is hard. But the challenge isn’t delivering feedback, but rather helping others feel safe to receive it.

Let’s compare it to completing a 1000-piece puzzle. There are so many pieces and it can be difficult to identify where each goes. Where do you begin in solving your challenge? Let’s apply two key strategies great puzzlers use.

Keep Your Eyes on the Goal
What is the most important part of a puzzle? Most people say the edges. They are extremely important. I would argue, however, that the edges aren’t the most important. The most important part of the puzzle is the picture on the box. Have you ever tried solving a puzzle without the picture? It can be maddening. It’s nearly impossible to put the puzzle together when you can’t see the finished product.

When we are training or coaching someone, it’s important to keep the finished product in mind. What is your objective? What is your ultimate goal? The picture on the box is your intent. What do you really want for your co-worker?

When people feel disrespected by us, sometimes it’s because they have misread our purpose or motive. If it’s not clear to your coworkers that you value their interests and needs, they may get defensive when receiving assignments or feedback. The trick is to help them see the finished product, the big picture, your true intent.
When discussing individual pieces of the puzzle like “time-management,” it’s easy to lose sight of the picture on the box. And if your coworker can’t see your intent, they’re forced to guess—and we are all pretty poor guessers. If they can’t see the picture, they won’t feel safe.

Create safety by helping them see the picture on the box. Make clear your intent by contrasting their perception with what you intend. For instance, it might sound something like this:
“Lisa, I apologize if I seem mothering or attacking. That is not my intent. I want you to be successful in this new role. I want you to be able to make your biggest and best contribution. I simply want to share what I’ve learned so you can more quickly accomplish your goals and be recognized for doing so.”
Remember, when you get resistance, stop focusing on the pieces of the puzzle (content) and start focusing on the picture on the box (intent).

Establish Mutual Purpose
Now, let’s get back to the edges. Most if not all puzzlers begin by building the borders of the puzzle. These pieces are usually easier to distinguish and it’s helpful to lay a framework and create the boundaries for your puzzle. This is equally important when training and coaching others.

Like the edges, when you establish mutual purpose you tell the other person that you are working towards a common objective. It tells them you care. Finding mutual purpose between yourself and your coworker will help establish the boundaries by which you work as well as a sense of safety. When purpose is at risk, people become defensive, they misunderstand, arguments follow, and you keep coming back to the same topic.
You can use the CRIB skills to establish safety and mutual purpose.

C – Commit to seek a mutual purpose. Agree that you will come to a solution that works for everyone.
“Lisa, obviously our approach isn’t working. Can we start over and see if we can come up with a solution that works for both of us?”

R – Recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Everyone’s intentions should be examined. We often mistake strategies for wants and intentions. Don’t make this mistake. Focus on uncovering your purposes and intentions. “Lisa, what do you want for our training relationship?”
She may come back with something like, “I just want to learn to do this job without feeling like you are hovering over me?”

It may be helpful to ask a follow-up question. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes, I thrive when I’m also recognized for the things I’m doing well and not just corrected for the things I’m doing wrong.”

Now make sure she knows your objectives.
“Lisa, I just want to make sure that we have an open communication where I can help you be successful in fulfilling your new role.”

I – Invent a mutual purpose. See if you can combine your purpose with theirs into a single mutual purpose.
“So, if we can find a way for us to create an open dialogue where we can discuss both your needs to improve as well as recognizing your successes without you feeling smothered, would that work?”

B – Brainstorm. Now that you have a found a mutual purpose, you have the safety necessary to brainstorm strategies that are mutually beneficial. Remember, your ideas have to meet the mutual purpose. You will be amazed at what you can come up with together.

As a potential solution, you may suggest holding “check-ins” versus “check-ups.” Allow your coworker to set regularly scheduled meetings with you to give updates on her growth and to ask any questions. This allows some ownership, but also provides an opportunity for you to praise and correct when necessary.

When all is said and done, there is great joy when you look at that 1000-piece puzzle fully completed, and you feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Remember, when you are training and coaching, keep the picture on the box readily accessible, and make sure the edges are built and you have clear boundaries on how you will work together.

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