‘Change my mind’: how to influence ideas
Convincing people to try something new is a process in negotiation. Andrea Murad finds out the best approaches on selling your idea to management.
You may have developed a new strategy that could benefit your company, or you want your team to change direction, but pursuing these ideas requires buy-in from senior management and team members. Understanding people’s roles is paramount to getting your point across, as is how you have that discussion to change someone’s mind.
“Management's role should be to align everyone's efforts and activities to execute the strategic plan – non-management employees need to frame their ideas in a way that explains why executing this idea will help achieve the strategic plan,” said Ian Smith CA, Founder of The Portfolio Partnership, an operational consultancy that scales businesses organically and by acquisition.
“Only after that’s achieved is it worthwhile justifying the business case on a quantitative and qualitative basis.”
First, you need to identify the decision-makers and their influencers. To change someone’s mind, think of it in three stages, said Ian.
- The first stage is understanding why someone holds that specific belief and what supports their worldview. Only by understanding that can you convince them of a better way.
- The second stage is to landscape why the current situation isn’t working. Awareness is everything. This has the effect of changing the person’s assumptions, which you understood from the first stage.
- The third stage is to explain why your idea accelerates remedies or improvements to the current situation. In a business setting, this third stage is aligned to the strategic plan, to make your idea compelling, and to quantify the hard (ROI) and soft (the qualitative improvements) deliverables.
These conversations are best had in person, rather than via text or email, as reading tone or pausing for emphasis on other mediums can be challenging if not impossible. Here are tips to help you through the process:
In an office environment, recognize management’s role in executing the strategic plan to move the company forward. New ideas have context and power, whether it’s an idea for a potential acquisition target, a new project, a better website or a recruitment request.
Ideas that move management will be aligned to their objectives, which are implemented to achieve the strategic plan signed off by the Board.
“You have a plan and a set of activities to execute that plan,” said Ian. “If your idea has some traction, gravity or relevance to the plan, then you’re already on a winning idea. If your idea isn’t relevant though, then you’re tilting at windmills and you won’t get the attention from management. They’re busy enough without chasing ideas that don’t fit the plan.”
“You really want to lay out the roadmap for what needs to happen and how your idea will benefit the company and decisionmakers,” said executive coach and career strategist Elizabeth Koraca.
Weigh the pros and cons and explain how the idea works with a clear plan and goals. Identify potential improvements on any qualitative and quantitative metrics.
Research data that backs up your idea, like case studies, financial results and statistics to anticipate any questions and concerns people may have.
“When you’re bringing a plan forward, you want to make sure that you’re credible and that the plan is credible,” Elizabeth added.
Understand Other’s Beliefs
Someone’s facts could be based on emotion, falsehoods or a history, and you now have a chance to frame the discussion, said Ian.
“You can say, ‘That’s interesting that you believe that customer support is doing a fantastic job, but there are ways to improve things. Let’s look at this data…’ or ‘Our user interface may not be as good as you think, and there’s compelling evidence that we’re weaker than the competition.’”
Once you understand the objective facts, you can hopefully open a discussion of why that may change someone’s view. Too often in negotiations, we don’t take the time to clarify why someone believes something. If we did, we would have the chance to change the narrative.
Influence the Right People
While you may not be able to influence the decisionmaker, you can influence that person who can influence the decisionmaker. Influencers are not always obvious from organization charts, and it’s not always about peer groups – a junior analyst can have the ear of the CEO.
How you approach that person is key. “The general advice I would give includes the following: impeccable politeness, logical clarity of argument, continue to question someone’s position so you understand it and that understanding gives fresh dialogue,” said Ian.
“Those are the skills that provide an effective way of moving someone to your point of view. In the world of business, younger executives should try to influence their senior colleagues.
"They may be surprised how receptive a senior person is to smart ideas. Don’t be put off – everyone’s looking for smart ideas that move the dial.”
Listen and Keep Emotions in Check
“Sometimes you have to make a passionate point, but it has to be seen as passion and not anger and you have to be able to look calm again,” said Ian. “It takes a very special person to be emotionally charged in a negotiation whilst remaining articulate, logical and very calm.”
What’s more important though is to make the other person feel like you are listening to them and for them to recognize that they are being listened to. If you don’t understand the other person’s points, then ask for clarity and be sure to ask if they understand what you’re saying as well.
“You can’t give the impression of not listening because then you’re done and it’s over,” said Ian.
Time Outs Can Be Beneficial
“For whatever reason, sometimes it’s better not to come to a conclusion in one meeting,” said Ian. “People underestimate the importance of time-outs – whether that’s for half an hour or a week, depending on the negotiation.”
The break can be used to do additional research or for the other person to think about your pitch.
About the author
Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.com, FOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.