As I was writing my last book Practical People Engagement, I came across Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. I’m so glad I did. I find Daniel Pink is one of those communicators who does much of the heavy lifting for us across the social sciences, in particular in the fields of cognitive psychology. He communicates effortlessly whether speaking or writing.
One of the key chapters in my forthcoming book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, is on Identity, the whole matter of how we see ourselves, our make-up and how we come to be unique. I believe this is pivotal because out of our own self-identity comes so much of what we do and how we do it. My self-identity is the “me” I think I bring to the world, to be unique not least to my work.
One of the delegates on one of my recent Agile workshops, who came from the Health Sector, spoke of finding one of the most techno-phobic clinicians. She decided to appoint him as her business ambassador(!)
Initially, this seemed to me like asking Basil Fawlty to lead a customer care programme.
She said it was difficult at first, but this stakeholder was much more influential with his peers when he had been won over. Everybody could see the conversion.
I can imagine.
This Road to Damascus' engagement strategy seems to be high risk. And it is risky unless there is a genuine affinity, honesty and trust between the change leader (my client) and the sceptical customer. Often the objections in such a relationship can be much more openly and honestly expressed. At the same time, these objections are discussed with some mutual respect.
This can open the way for a breakthrough. This is far less the case, perhaps, where there is a stakeholder who feels they should or ought to be an advocate of this, but they don't really believe in it or cannot afford the time to engage with the change. In such cases, the objection might not be surfaced early enough.
Shorten the distance between you and them and agreement becomes more likely.
As with my advice recently about dealing with the difficult, this is a case where the aim is for both parties to look together at the objections or difficulties together. The objections are not personalised.
If you can shorten the distance between you and the other person most obstacles can be overcome.
What have been your experiences of winning over sceptics? How is this done? Leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Earlier this year I was running a Stakeholder Engagement Workshop in the Netherlands. Towards the end of the workshop, I began to reference one of the most popular, but contentious sections in my book Practical People Engagement about 'Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders.' One of the delegates suggested that if I label someone as 'difficult' immediately that label creates a barrier between me and them.
He is, of course, quite right. It is not positioning me to call out the gold in that person if I have already written them off as 'difficult' as part of their essential identity. It adds yet another barrier between us.
Good negotiation shortens the social distance between you and the other party.
It would be more helpful and more accurate to regard the relationship as difficult, and so to work on the relationship. In fact, the strategy I set out in the book does recognise that. Ultimately, good negotiation in difficult contexts is about shortening the social distance between us and them. We aim to look at the problem that creates the difficulty from the perspective of being shoulder-to-shoulder with that person. If we can look at the issue together it paves the way to a probable agreement.
In a previous post, I wrote about calling out the gold in people . How exactly is perceiving someone as 'difficult' helping me to do that?
Well, it isn't. By labelling people 'difficult', I may have created an eye-catching headline, but it is not necessarily honouring their true identity and so creates an unseen barrier for me in moving towards them.
So, thank you to my client. (You know who you are.)
If you would like a more detailed version of a checklist I have developed, please click the link below and I will be glad to send it to you.
Perhaps many of our stakeholder challenges are of our own making, more than we would like to think.
Note About Dealing with Difficult Relationships
I'd like to know what has worked for you in resolving difficult relationships. Leave your tips below in the comments section.