Some of us may think consequences are used only in a punitive way, but under the right circumstances, it is actually a very useful tool in communication. When modifying another person’s behavior, we sometimes need to point out a consequence to doing or not doing something.
Once we have clearly identified an undesirable behavior and given clear instructions for future behaviors, stating the consequences of future choices can be very powerful. Here are three things to keep in mind when setting out consequences:
1-Decide on your commitment level
Before giving any consequences, you must be certain of two things to which you can commit. The first one is that you have the power to follow through on the consequences you are stating. The second one is that you are committed to following through so they feel the repercussions of their decisions.
Remember: it is never the severity of the consequence that captures someone’s attention but rather the certainly of it. Therefore follow through is primordial for being taken seriously in the future.
2-Try giving a positive consequence first
People always think of the negative outcome as opposed to the positive but different people are motivated by different stimuli. Some people respond better to the carrot while others respond better to the stick.
Pointing out the advantages of doing what you are requesting can be a strong motivator for some. A simple comments such as “if you do this, then I will know I can count on you in the future” may help an inflexible employee decide that this would be a career enhancing change.
The same goes at home with a difficult loved one. Imagine telling your young person that feeling more respected would encourage you to increase availability to the family car. It is amazing how motivated they are to know what makes you feel more respected.
If the person is not at all motivated by positive or constructive redirection, my instinct is to look for other reasons for this behavior. You may need more data before moving forward.
Asking ourselves questions such as: “are they well?” or “do they have all the tools they need to meet my expectations?” may bring up missing pieces that identify an underlying problem. It is better to err on the side of compassion then to jump down someone’s throat.
3-Pointing out the negative consequence
Although positive consequences have their place, we can’t go through life pouring pink paint on everything or negotiating away the family car in the hopes of never upsetting people.
When being clear as to expectations and the benefits of those being met has not worked, it becomes time to state a negative consequence.
Pointing out to someone that their behavior may be career limiting is a natural negative consequence. If they are breaking a rule or policy, pointing out how offenses in a company are managed may be the stick they need to change their behaviors. If they are breaking a rule, stating negative consequences should happen immediately because it is data they need.
Use consequences in a prudent manner. When someone is threatening some type of punitive reaction with every interaction, that type of behavior can be viewed as coercive and bullying. Improving daily communication with clarity and specificity as to what future behaviors and tasks are expected are much more valuable than consequences.
Additionally, when we harp on consequences to a group who already knows what they are, it feels like we are lecturing them. It becomes counterproductive when they feel overwhelmed by reminders of the boogieman. It also creates an unhealthy workplace (or home life) with resentment and reduces loyalty.
Successful leaders develop and maintain healthy relationships through positive and clear communication as to what is expected. When behaviors do not change, they simply point out the obvious. After all, feeling respected and valued is what gets people engaged so consequences should be added to the dialogue strategically.
I would love to know what you think about the value of giving consequences for disruptive or undesirable behavior.