Can you make someone care (or should you even try)?

appreciate care duality

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One of the frustrating things about management is that we cannot get people to care as much as we care. Try as we may, we cannot instill the same level of commitment and determination we have into others. But, it’s not for lack of trying.

One of the most effective ways of accomplishing a task is to codify it – break it down into sequential steps and develop a procedure in order to accomplish it. Monkey see, monkey do. It is terribly effective in reproducing results, and that is the attraction and appeal of extending this method to everything.

It seems to just makes sense. If I can codify how to weld two pieces of metal together, I can practice and learn how to do this task very well. I can repeat it seemingly forever and can be very successful in replicating this defined result. In many situations, this is success – achieving a well-defined result using a well-defined procedure.

The temptation is to codify caring. We believe we can make people care by making them replicate our actions. An early attempt to understand this phenomenon was the use of Trait Theory. In trait theory we study the personal traits of a person with the hopes of replicating their results. It is very precise, very scientific; square pegs fit into square holes and we congratulate ourselves on being carbon copies of our heroes.

However, history and experience have taught us that everyone is an original; no true carbon copies of people exist. Try as we may, we cannot replicate or imitate everything in someone’s life because so much of life is secret; it is out of view and intensely personal. Even if I move to Omaha and drink Cherry Coke, it doesn’t mean I will have the investing acumen of Warren Buffet. I can require that someone tell me that they love me but that doesn’t mean they will love me. I can mandate that someone respect me but they will not. Love and respect cannot be codified because they are necessarily secret, out of view and intensely personal.

This reminds me of wanting to make someone care. Managers specialize in accomplishing tasks and replicating results – and appropriately so. However, caring is like love and respect in that we cannot mandate them because we cannot codify them. Even though I can say all the right things and do all the right things, it doesn’t make someone love or respect me. And, even though I can mandate actions consistent with caring it will not guarantee that someone, in fact, cares.

Why does someone love or respect someone else? I believe it is because the person that is loved or respected touches someone on a deeper level and allows the other person to express themselves. The person we love allows us to express ourselves according to our needs. You will never love in a way you do not understand; it is secret and intensely personal.

So, why do we care? We care because caring is an expression of who we are. Caring is an expression of our inner self and it satisfies our need to do something meaningful. We do what we care about, not what someone else cares about. Caring, like love and respect, can never be commanded because it can only be given.

Greg L. Lowhorn