One of the skills I've had to develop over the years is the ability to influence people to embrace and accept dramatically new and unfamiliar ideas. In my first career as a designer, I've learned it is best to have at least three solutions for consideration, not just one, and to invite stakeholders early on to participate. When people feel they have ownership of an idea, they are more likely to get onboard and become your champion.
What if you don't have any champions yet? Try these approaches to win over your critics:
- Seek out your most influential critics and get to know them. Invite them to lunch or coffee on a one-to-one basis and try to understand their perspectives. As Cicero said over 2000 years ago, "If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my language. You can also try reaching out to your critics' circle of influence, so they might influence your critic. The important thing is to listen and empathize.
- Find out what drives your critics. Left-brain thinkers want logic and reason, so you need to build a case that appeals to their senses and mitigates their fears. Right-brain thinkers want to know what your big idea is, and the impact it will have (on people, the business or community).
- Frame your offering holistically using whole-brain thinking: Describe the context (problem or opportunity) the big idea in terms of desirability, the impact of the idea in terms of viability, and the plan of action in terms of feasibility. I find if I can present a progressively new idea with flawless logic, I will get buy-in, if the client sees value in it.
Making your pitch to an audience
John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead, authors of Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down (2010) offer these tips:
- When making your pitch prepare for the lions. Anticipating how opponents could attack your proposition is the first step to being prepared to address them. What possible conflict of interest (or appearance of a conflict of interest) do you or your idea's other proponents have? What might happen if the idea is delayed? Don't scheme to keep potential opponents, even the sneakiest attackers, out of the discussion. Let them in. Let them shoot at you. Even encourage them to shoot at you!
- Invite your attackers in the room. Of course, one reason to have the opposition involved is that they may find legitimate holes in your plan and help you to fix them. But the most important reason to bring in the opposition is to attract attention. The biggest impediment to being heard is that your audience is probably tuned out and uninterested. Controversy piques interest; it engages otherwise bored, overwhelmed or distracted audience members and tells them that maybe this meeting is more interesting than they thought it would be. Getting others engaged, and winning them over, can turn a "sure, why not?" vote into a "heck, yes, and what can I do to help?" vote.
- Keep your answers brief and based on common sense, not bogged down in details.
- State your case and stop. Talking the other side into submission is a risky tactic.
- Be respectful at all times. Chances are you're not going to change the mind of someone who is adamantly opposed to you, but if you are sufficiently respectful and knowledgeable, you stand a better chance of winning over the undecideds, who would be turned off by sarcasm and anger.
- Watch the rest of the audience. Unless you're making your pitch to an audience of one, the others in the audience will give a good indication of where you stand. Are they nodding when you talk? Do they roll their eyes when your opponent makes a point? Are they texting or otherwise not paying attention? Keying into the rest of the room--not just your opponent(s)--can help you adapt your presentation (or know when to stop talking).
"Making your case," say the authors, "particularly in front of a hostile audience, takes both moxie and practice; but whether you're advocating for a good idea or speaking out against a bad one, preparation and common sense are your best friends."