I had an interesting conversation the other day with an executive who is getting significant resistance when he presents his ideas for instituting change in his organization. Rather than focus on methods for leading change or overcoming resistance, I asked, “How do you interpret “No”? He looked at me puzzled for a minute and replied (as most of us would), “’No’ means ‘No’.”
I pressed on. “What if ‘no’ doesn’t mean ’no’?, I said. What if ‘no’ means ‘I don’t get what you’re talking about.’ or ‘What you’re proposing scares me.’ or ‘I don’t want to do that.’?”
There are three points I wanted him (and us) to reflect on. One, resistance isn’t necessarily a dead end to your idea. It simply means that you may need to rethink your strategy for securing buy-in and find another way to get it. If we stop to think about it, “no” doesn’t mean “no”; it means, “not this way.”
Two, using inquiry before advocacy is always a smart strategy for engaging others. As soon as we advocate for a position (or idea), the other person is voting – Do I agree or disagree? Using inquiry to open the conversation provides the opportunity to bring your option or idea into the conversation so that it meets with less resistance. You are inviting collaboration and that’s almost always a good idea.
Three, we can’t change others. If our tactic for securing buy-in isn’t working, complaining about it and being upset that we got shot down gets us nowhere. We need to change the only person we can – ourselves.
The final question we explored together was, “What shift to your relationship and communication strategy and/or your personal style will enable you to engage others and introduce your ideas in a way that reduces resistance and invites high acceptance and buy-in?” Some great ideas began to flow into our conversation. In the end it became clear that if my executive friend wants a different outcome, he can’t expect others to change. That’s up to him.