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How to Drive Decisions Without Saying a Word

The best way to gain support for your ideas? Shut up. How to use the power of silence to get recommendations approved -- and do so without pushing.

All too often, leaders seek to build support for an idea by talking -- a lot.

They go on and on about why the decision is a good one -- detailing its benefits, the reasons others should support it, and the path forward. There's passion and excitement behind the talk, and the leader lets it show through in the form of focused enthusiasm. At best, he is pegged as long-winded, overbearing, and insecure. At worst, the decision doesn't get made because no one buys in or it's pushed through despite active resistance that will almost certainly derail implementation.

Here's a more effective way to make decisions and get people to support their implementation: Be quiet.

Know Your Destination

Heading into your meeting, be clear about the desired outcome. Are you there to secure overarching support for your recommendation? Or are you simply looking to sell a few key stakeholders? Are you seeking approval for a pilot? A full roll-out? By being explicit about the meeting's objectives, you'll increase the likelihood of achieving them.

Kick off the meeting by clearing stating the objective in an affirmative way: "We're here to approve the full roll out of the new compensation plan." In other words, point everyone in the right direction -- forward.

Know When to Ride…

Set the destination, provide a not-too-granular overview, and then say this: "Based on the background I've just provided, I'd like to hear perspectives from the group on the subject of moving forward with rolling out the idea." At that point, shut up; let the conversation happen and watch where it goes.

As people discuss the idea, they'll offer pros and cons. They'll add new ideas and information to the conversation. They'll influence one another without you saying a word. While the discussion might not proceed at a brisk pace, letting participants debate without pressure lets them to work through their objections naturally.

As long as the discussion is progressing toward your objective, resist the urge to open your mouth. Pay attention to questions and concerns raised by participants. Identify your champions and understand your adversaries, as well as their reasons for not supporting the idea. While everyone is talking, you're gathering intelligence and they're taking ownership for the outcome.

…and Know When to Steer

If the conversation deviates from your desired objective, steer things back on course quickly. Often this only requires a light touch. Redirecting with a question feels less heavy handed. For example: "I understand you have concerns about the technology support for the roll-out, John. What kind of technology support would you need to approve this recommendation?" With a gentle question, you've led John to clarify his objections and now have him working toward solving his own concern.

If a participant continues to object, pull in the other participants again: "Susan, as the CIO, do you think your team can provide the roll-out support John is looking for? What will it take for you to make that happen?" Again, with a simple question, you now have two stakeholders working together to create a solution in support of your recommendation. These slight steering corrections keep the conversation moving in the right direction and lead the group to collectively take ownership for the idea.

If They Make the Decision, They’ll Support the Decision

By letting participants reach a decision at their own pace and without pressure, you're securing their buy in. If they're bought into it and feel like they made the decision and solved for their own objections, they're much more likely to support the implementation.

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Last updated: Jan 13, 2014

MIKE FIGLIUOLO | Columnist | Founder, thoughtLeaders

A West Point graduate, former U.S. Army platoon leader, and corporate strategist, Mike Figliuolo is the founder of a leadership training firm called thoughtLEADERS and the author of One Piece of Paper, a book about defining your personal leadership philosophy.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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