What This Means
In a nutshell, children and adults are generally unwilling to try something new or different unless they expect some type of benefit that outweighs the effort and risk. In many cases, pleasing a parent or supervisor is sufficient benefit. At other times, the expectation that a new activity will be fun or exciting is enough to get even the shyest child to participate. At times, however, try as we might, we all encounter individuals who steadfastly refuse to do something new. It’s these “reluctant” participants and staff who can stymie a program’s momentum, and may even end up taking valuable time and effort away from everyone else.
So, what can be done to get everyone going in the same direction? Returning to the example of the baby who decides to take a first step, or Jillian’s desire to be with her friend, conveying the rationale and assuaging the fear of risk can do wonders. In fact, frequently, those individuals who appear unmotivated do not have an understanding of how the new activity could be beneficial or enjoyable. To overcome this lack of understanding, there are four time-tested communication strategies that you can use.
The first and most obvious is to simply verbalize how and why the individual will benefit to do what is being asked. Frequently a short conversation is all that is needed to help move a child from the sidelines, or a staff member to finally start following that new procedure. This approach falls short when working with younger (non-verbal) children, or when dealing with more deeply rooted anxiety.
The second and generally most effective way to have someone embrace the unknown is to demonstrate the advantages of the new activity and to assist the person through the steps until he or she becomes more comfortable (or put another way, successful at the task with limited help). Helping a baby to take a few steps and reach a toy on a shelf that previously was too high to reach illustrates the benefits of standing and walking. Or, by limiting Jillian’s opportunity to play with Amanda for even one minute, and then explaining that her friend wouldn’t be in her class anymore, you could help her to try putting her face in the water one more time.
Relationships, like new skills, take time to develop. By frequently “saying” and “showing” an individual that there is a reason to do what you’re asking, you are building trust and reinforcing the idea that doing new things leads to positive outcomes. Over time you can expect less resistance to your directions, and ultimately you’ll be developing increased confidence and efficacy in those individuals you’re leading.
Perhaps the most important thing that you and your staff can do when trying to encourage someone to do something new or different is to be mindful of the person’s knowledge and perspective. When you’re able to put yourself in those shoes (Nike or not), it’s much easier to envision what matters to the individual and what you’re asking is a better means to the desired end. At the end of the day, if you can help your participants feel comfortable and understand all that they can gain from your programs, everyone wins!