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Want People to Support Your Ideas? Conquer Their Fears

Whether you have a new idea, innovation, or change effort, you'll need to overcome people's anxieties. The key? Understanding psychology.
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One of the biggest challenges of innovation and leading change is presenting ideas in a way that overcomes people's anxieties and resistance to change. 

As I've argued before, a good idea is not enough. If you want support for a new change, innovation, product, process, or strategy, you need to understand the psychology behind this resistance--the fears, concerns, and worries that keep people from embracing change. 

Here are four of the key reasons people (including employees, board members, and others) resist your ideas: 

Fear of failure: Think of what you're asking from others. You want them to invest time, effort, and maybe money into a project whose outcome (no matter how certain success seems to you) is uncertain to them. Given that most people are risk-averse, the fear of failure is an obvious source of anxiety and resistance. 

Fear of the new: In theory, many will not challenge a new direction. But when change actually starts--and routine, budgets, and work processes are discernibly different--people get conventional, fast. Appreciate that while people may say that they want new, innovative ideas, they may not be as receptive when dealing with the results. 

Turf paranoia: The introduction of new ideas can create a shift in priorities and resources that will make some feel alienated, undervalued, or nervous. Broad change initiatives make it difficult for people to protect old turf and old ways of doing things. New ideas may imply an infringement on the status and power held before. You have to take these concerns seriously and think of ways to preserve the status and resources of key stakeholders while implementing your new ideas.

Confusion: New ideas are often complicated and not easily understood. Because of this, they may require too much concentration and energy from the very people you are trying to bring on board. 

How to Win Support for Your Ideas

To overcome these obstacles and get people excited about your ideas, innovations, or change efforts, you'll need to mitigate these anxieties as you make your pitch. Here are five tips: 

1. Accentuate the payoff: When proposing a new idea, leaders often assume that the benefits of their idea are self-evident. Stress the benefits, and don't assume that everyone will have an immediate and deep appreciation of what you're trying to achieve. Tell a story that shows your audience each and every advantage of your idea. 

2. Couch it in their reality: You always have to be thinking of your audience and their world. You need to illustrate your ideas by explaining how your ideas relate to their lives. 

3. Address the risks: Often, leaders don't dwell on the inherent risks of their ideas when presenting them to the team. Take the time to identify areas of risk and ways risk can be mitigated.

4. Be concrete: Ideas can be rejected because they sprawl or are too sweeping. Rein in the scope of your idea, and focus on exact costs and timelines. Don't allow the drama and power of your idea to make you promise more than you can deliver.

5. Accentuate prestige: Knowing that individuals will often resist change because they fear loss of status and turf, accentuate the social prestige and recognition that they will likely receive by joining your effort. 

Last updated: Jul 31, 2014

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

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



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