Often when we’re trying to influence someone it is to do something that we want them to do or think is right for them. You try to get your kids to make healthy food choices, get your spouse to get things done around the house, or get your team to beat a deadline that will improve life for them and the customers they serve. This can be difficult at times when you feel so passionately about something and they are resisting. You need to explain what is in it for them to do the thing, lead with why it is important, and communicate both frequently in different ways and different mediums. You have to plan, support, reward, set up consequences, what and how it will work to see the result. You do all of that, sometimes without even really realizing everything you’re doing, happily because in the end we understand and agree with what you’re asking. We do think veggies are important, and want the furnace filter changed, and want the que completely cleared before the end of the day. Let’s take a personal example, your kid does something that causes you and your spouse to ground him from technology for a week. When your kid comes up to you a day later begging for his tablet you likely say something like, ‘There are consequences for your choices. Think about that next time you think you should ____.’ You’re reinforcing the why and encouraging them to make better choices in the future.
What happens though when you don’t agree with what is being asked but you need to influence toward it anyway? Maybe it’s a severe punishment your spouse gave your kid but you want to provide a united front. Maybe it’s a new process at work that you think is over burdensome but are expected from upper leadership to implement. When you don’t agree you see the change or request through completely different eyes. Rather than seeing what about the change is for the person you see what will work against them. The why’s suddenly start to be drown out by all of the why nots. If you yourself as the leader within the group are feeling scared, stuck, frustrated, angry, or just disappointed by a decision or change it and now are faced with the same amount of work to support and encourage the change within your team, will you take it on? Will you drive it forward? What you once didn’t realize was happening feels like drudgery or worse yet, you get amnesia that it is needed in the first place and don’t do any of it. Let’s take our same example but now you don’t like that Dad grounded the kid from his tablet for a week. Now you’re struggling to foster the learning and reflection that is supposed to come with losing a privilege and instead saying things like, ‘I guess this is what Dad said so this is what we’re doing.’ and ‘I don’t like it any more than you do but we can’t do anything about it now.’ or ‘Dad said it and I support your Dad.’ None of that is really helpful to the situation and likely every time you have to answer questions, because you’re answering in that way, you’re building a little more resentment toward the decision and the decision maker.
In a corporate setting I have seen people handle trying to influence change they don’t agree with just the same way. There seem to be a few options that people choose from most often. These include:
- Towing the line: This strategy basically says, ‘this is the position and I have to support it.’ It isn’t directly undermining the plan or idea but with your passivity it is clear that you’re not fully onboard, whether it is the company, upper leadership, or your partner.
- Silence: You can’t say it wrong if you don’t say anything right? Wrong, being silent on an issue of change will create the story for you in the minds of others. Typically the story changes based on their view point.
- Giving ‘off the record’ comments: This one typically comes after either towing the line or staying silent. In a group setting you might marginally support or saying nothing but one on one you might say something like, ‘This is ridiculous, but you know, it is what it is.’
- Pretending to love the idea: The last one that happens from time to time is someone going to the extreme to support something that they don’t actually support. They are towing the company line but off the deep end. They fail to communicate any challenge or disappointing parts of the decision or change only sell the canned talking points or their why for supporting the decision.
None of these options are good. Not one. They do all have their pros and cons and you can see how people would land there (ahem… myself included) but they do not accomplish the goals of leading toward the change. Nor do they follow the same communication or strategy that we know we follow when we do genuinely agree with the end result. These tactics attempt to mask our own feelings of stress, fear, frustration, etc. They erode trust and typically disengage people from the very thing you’re trying to get them to do. Let’s go back to our grounded from technology example, by giving the ‘Dad said it and I support it,’ or ‘I don’t like it either but this is where we’re at’ type responses not only are you not teaching your kid the very lesson that was intended with the consequence but you are teaching him that Dad is a jerk or makes the wrong call, or both. Probably not the direction you wanted that to go.
Authenticity is the only way to build trust with people and modeling healthy ways to cope is critical to holistic and long term success for both the decisions or change, and the person you’re leading. Therefore, the only option I’ve seen be successful is to explain the intention or benefit of the change, validating the feelings of the other person, followed by sharing a specific concern you hold and how you’re bridging that gap. Then, even if you messed that first part up, ask what would help the person work through it and how you can support them through it.
This can look like some version of: The intended benefits are _______. I understand there can be mixed feelings, personally I feel ___________. I ___________ to help me work through things like this. What do you think will help you? How can I work with you on that?
So for our kid, The reason we took the iPad away is to help you understand the significance of you taking it without asking. I understand you’re frustrated, I’m frustrated that this messes with our routine myself. I’m focusing on the end goal, teaching you about respect, to get past the frustration. What do you think will help you? Anything I can do to help?
Or at work, The benefit to overhauling our systems is they will all talk to each other and be working on the same version. I understand that can be overwhelming, I’m worried about what it will look like to train all of it at once. When I’m worried about a change like this I like to get involved so I know as much as possible and have a say in decisions. What do you think will help you? What do you need from me?
By doing this you’ve essentially recreated the frame work that you’re already doing when you do agree just on a smaller scale to meet people where they’re at. You’re communicating the why and the benefit, sharing your plan to move ahead and empowering them to create their own, supporting them in their specific need, and the rewards come in working through it together. Don’t forget that improving their attitude toward the decision and/or readiness for the change is something to be celebrated.