When we are trying to persuade people or inspire people to act on a goal for intrinsic reasons (which are the most powerful reasons to do anything difficult), then it makes sense for us to understand the difference between a request and an invitation.
A request can be communicated in two ways:
While we might feel that people should act on our requests (commands) because we are the “boss” or because we “know better,” I think that what we find more often is that people won’t respond well to changing how they do things or give more of their time and energy if they feel like it is being commanded of them.
When I spoke with a friend who spent twenty years in the military as an officer, he talked about how, even in a system that is so hierarchical and dependent on the command format, soldier were unlikely to obey the order exactly if they didn’t respect the officer or if they didn’t feel that the order was important to the mission. In other words, they would “yessir” the officer when he was there, then ignore the order when he wasn’t around.
Neediness is like whining and that can sometimes happen with leaders who feel helpless in motivating their staff or organization to make important changes. A request in this case becomes something more like “it would make my life easier if you did this” rather than a compelling reason to make this change or work harder on this project.
Neither of these two styles work well when trying to persuade people to change behavior or to feel intrinsically motivated to solve a problem for the company.
An invitation, however, is a great way to offer a new way of thinking or a new way of being into the conversation. There are three important keys to an invitation:
1. It’s a place that you are also willing to go.
2. You recognize that you can’t make people go there.
3. You able to clearly articulate what the invitation is.
By communicating these three things, you will open the door to your team, employees, clients, audience to see themselves as free agents who are actively choosing to step through this door. You are inviting them to see themselves in a new light, and you are openly acknowledging that, while you can force the change, you can’t force them to like it.
The end result is a culture of empowerment, trust and openness. The value of this kind of culture is that you get people who are intrinsically motivated to work harder, solve problems and communicate more openly about what needs to happen to accomplish the goals.
And those are the kind of people that any organization would love to have.