One of my projects right now is helping the opening of a new local school for 5 to 11-year-olds. Since the government likes the idea, much of this will be publicly-funded, which means we need to evidence demand for the school by getting parents to sign up before it opens.
So, I was with another volunteer, who is also a friend of mine, visit a manager of a pre-school nursery recently. We left leaflets and asked this manager to make parents aware of this new school.
I found the manager to be a helpful, experienced woman, who was willing but overwhelmed by all the demands and constraints placed upon her. I began to see before me not so much merely a gatekeeper, or manager, or even merely a channel to market.
Rather, I saw something of the real person. This woman clearly had a great passion for her kids. It kept her going
Burdened by bureaucracy, imposed by this same government, she nevertheless was willing to extend us the courtesy of her precious time in the middle of the day.
I was impressed.
My friend and I began to empathise, asking how we might help her. My friend also began to ‘call out the gold’ in her; that is, telling this woman what she recognised in her that was good and worthy.
If we get the chance, my friend and I will help her as best we can. We will, where possible, deposit something into our relationship with her.
The relational bank account technique is a simple and powerful way of building relationships.
This is the relational bank account in action. It’s a simple concept: never make a withdrawal from a relationship without depositing something in first.
We could have just tried to make a withdrawal without depositing anything into her account. We could have asked her to hand out our leaflets to parents, and then gone away.
Instead, we came away committed to seeking ways to make that manager’s burden a little lighter, ways of helping her express her passion and vision for her children more possible. We did come away with a new friend and, I think, ally.
The relational bank account is a concept we explore more in EPE. You can download a paper about 10 ways of making such relational deposits here.:
It’s a simple and powerful.
In my book, Practical People Engagement, I use this illustration of the modes of engagement. Far too often, I find classical approaches to engagement and communications planning almost always overlook the power and versatility of the ubiquitous conversation. We, as human beings, have had all of human history and pre-history to hone the practice of language and executing language through a conversation.
But modes are not the same as levels. How deep do you go with a conversation, for example.
There are, of course, degrees of engagement as there are degrees of relationship we have with people. I do not have the same level of intimacy with my bank manager as I do with my wife (thankfully!).
So a pretty basic level is the transaction conversation. This is a conversation where the aim is to exchange information, or get agreement, or get a sale, for example. Often if can be successful without needing to share deeply with the other party.
And it is usually attempted in one conversation. As sales managers might put it: aim to close the sale in that conversation.
Now here's the caution: this kind of transactional conversation can back-fire very quickly when we are dealing with people who already feel aggrieved about the change we are either making or even just proposing to make. This grievance may be legitimate, in our view, or not; it is still a felt hurt by them.
We can attempt too much in one conversation with people we are seeking to influence, and do more harm than good.
If we still think with the purely transactional mindset, it is all too easy to find ourselves doing this. We just want to process that person at the desk as quickly as possible. We want to end that interrupting call as soon as possible so we can get on with our day. We just want to clear that email out of our inbox. Urgency can work against us here.
A far better approach is the two-conversation strategy outlined in a recent HBR article by Sally Blount and Shana Carroll. The first conversation is seeking evidence from the other party, perhaps using active listening, discovering not just the facts, but the underlining emotions of that person or group, and making sure they know that they are being listened to carefully.
The second meeting should follow shortly after on the basis that you have thought carefully about meeting their concerns and objections. It’s in this conversation that you lay out your proposal and its merits.
By splitting the conversation in this way, you are honouring the other party. They are likely to think, “You hear me.” They are also more likely to be persuaded since you have given time and consideration to their concerns. Also, the pause possibly influences our thinking also, where we may identify those win-win solutions we did not first identify.
In my book, the first principle is taken from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand and then be understood.
The problem with transactional, broadcast communications is that it leaves no space to hear people.
The problem with transactional, broadcast communications is that it leaves no space to hear people, to dialogue, to understand them to any significant extent.
Now, you may be thinking in all this, This is all very well, but I just don’t have time for all of this engagement stuff!
Well, I have two responses to that:
Allow me to challenge you. Meet with one more person, one-to-one in your work environment or project each day. That one-to-one can be physically or virtually.
Then comment on this post below and tell me how it is going.
This week I was sent a report containing Advice from the 30 TOP influencers in project management. If you are not involved in project management professionally, I can quite understand that this will not set your heart racing! However, it is interesting to see the patterns that emerge from these ‘TOP influencers.’
(Full disclosure: I was chosen as one of the 30. The authors asked me and the other 29 contributors to give our take on what was our top tip.)
Much of this so-called ‘top’ advice focuses on planning and re-planning. Important though planning is, it is nowhere near the top thing for me.
Many others get rather nearer the mark, in my opinion, and focus on stakeholder engagement and developing key relationships. See my own work on this.
However, I suggest – with apologies to JRR Tolkien – that there is one thing to rule them all:
developing your self-awareness.
Now, I recognise that to many people my choice might look pretty abstract and dull. Maybe even a little surprising. “Is that it??! Self-awareness. That feels very psychological and not very practical. What about the Time-Cost-Scope Triangle. What about the Critical Path?”
[shareable]Thinking about your thinking – self-awareness – is the key to driving all other habits that bring success.[/shareable]
Let me explain. The research I did a few years ago with my colleague John Edmonds revealed that self-awareness was key to high performance: high performing programme and project managers all exhibited a high degree of self-awareness, of mental clarity about their own thought processes. They all think about their thinking. Self-awareness drives all the other behaviours that give the high-performer real traction in the complex world of project management: behaviours like building and protecting personal margins, leaning to action, and leaning to people. See this diagram:
So how do we all develop self-awareness in our work? I show you how in my new book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. I have since come to believe that this kind of high-performance is not for the exalted few, any of us can develop the right habits to get exceptional results.
[reminder]How do you think about your thinking?[/reminder]
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.
Don't worry, your email address will be safe.