It's one thing to have a good idea and another to "sell" that idea to others. Whether you want to convince a colleague to collaborate with you on a project, get the people on your work team to adopt a new strategy or sell your boss on the idea of investing in some new software, it's important to be persuasive in your approach. As everyone knows, even the most brilliant ideas can be ignored or resisted. So persuasiveness becomes both a practical skill and a subtle art that can help us build support and cooperation from our coworkers, especially those over whom we have no formal authority.
The Trust Factor Is Key
The qualities most likely to help us succeed as effective persuaders are eloquence, honesty, enthusiasm, commitment and humor. And, clearly, people are more likely to accept our ideas if they like and trust us.
That's why Professor Linda Hill, of the Harvard Business School, recommends that, as a general rule, we should identify our allies in the workplace -- our peers with similar interests and common goals, who will be open to sharing and listening to new ideas.
If you are trying to get others to listen to your ideas and see or do things your way -- and who isn't? -- here are some suggestions.
Observe what people say and do. Pay attention to how your colleagues take on new challenges. What are their motives and agendas? You may need to tailor your own approach, depending on the message others are conveying. For example, some people make it clear that they need to feel "in the loop" and recognized for their contribution. Others are more cautious: they're more concerned about not rocking the boat than they are about becoming part of something new.
Start with a trial balloon. Before you try to convince others of the merits of your idea, present it as a question or even a speculation. Instead of saying, "Here's what I believe we should do," try "I wonder what would happen if we tried x, y or z." That way, if your idea gets shot down, you're not shot down with it -- and you can learn a lot about the nature and extent of your opposition. A trial balloon can also be a way to get others to adopt your ideas as their own -- and, if you're willing to give up credit or ownership, this is one of the best ways to move a new initiative along. Show how people will benefit. As you think about presenting your idea, ask yourself, "What's in it for Jose or Marcia?" An old rule of salesmanship says that people are far more likely to do something if you can make it clear how they will benefit. For example, when you talk to a colleague for whom recognition is a big concern, you might say, "If this project goes well, it will be great for you. It will show people that your reputation as somebody who can get the job done is very much deserved." Or, if you're talking to a colleague who may be less comfortable about taking risks, you might say, "One of the good things about this idea is that it will make it easier for both of us to do our jobs -- and it fits into the President's latest memo encouraging teamwork."
Anticipate resistance. Respond to your colleagues' objections even before they raise them. Talk about the positive features of your idea first, then bring up possible negatives. If you sense that the people you're trying to convince may be jealous of your idea -- or may need to assert their power in opposition to you -- give in on some points early in the discussion. Above all, be respectful of objections and objectors. Don't try to overcome people's criticism by bullying or showing them the error of their logic or philosophy. Say instead, "You've pointed out a number of potential pitfalls that we should look out for. Let's consider some of the opportunities this would present."Express your appreciation. Saying thank-you has more impact if you do it in writing. Whether you've gotten your coworkers to agree with you on a plan to take used toner cartridges from your office to a local recycling center or created a successful collaboration with several offices or departments, thank-you notes to those who supported you are important and will be appreciated. Official reports, programs, ceremonies and public events also provide good opportunities to recognize people's contributions.