How to Reject Bad Ideas … Without People Rejecting You!

You’re in a meeting when a colleague brings up an idea that you think (or even know) is not so great. For many of us, our first instinct is to shoot the idea down immediately, one way or another, before it gains traction. How often have you suffered through this challenging situation?

When it comes to gaining influence, remember the law of reciprocity. The more you support others, the more they will support you. If you want people to adopt your ideas in the future, you need to be collaborative yourself. You need to support their ideas, or at a minimum, show respect and a willingness to listen before weighing in. Squash a colleague’s pet initiative too quickly or be perceived as a naysayer, and you may find that your initiatives will increasingly fail to receive full and fair consideration.

The key to your success is to learn to reject or redirect bad ideas in a thoughtful, positive and more collaborative way. Consider employing one or more of the six tips below:

#1 – Pause. Take a deep breath before weighing in. Often, someone else’s idea can “hijack” you during a meeting because it poses a threat to your own objectives, goals, priorities or resources. As human beings, we are wired to identify and react immediately to anything that may harm us. By simply pausing, you are allowing your reasoning power to catch up to your emotional response. If you wait until you are fully composed, you will deliver your response in a more thoughtful, reasoned and kind way.

#2 – Allow others to weigh in first. Particularly when your gut reaction is negative, suppress the urge to be the first to jump in with your opinion. Why object before you have others’ perspective? You may hear a thought that sways your opinion. Or the opposite may happen; someone else brings up the challenges you were going to raise first. Even if you later reinforce the concerns, you are not a lone dissenter. A CFO was tired of always being the bad guy when he had to shut down ideas for which the business case was not sound. He started implementing this technique in leadership team meetings and found that he had to be the naysayer only half as often. Many leaders intentionally weigh in last so that they can hear the opinions of their reports without biasing them first with their own thoughts.

#3 – Be curious first; pose questions rather than pass judgment. Ask open-ended questions with an open mind. Make sure the person feels fully heard, and be careful not to take small stabs at the idea in the phrasing of your questions. To quote Steven Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Even if you ultimately disagree with or reject the idea, you will be in a much better position to state your objection in a way that acknowledges the idea presenter’s point of view. The person will receive the feedback much better if he or she feels that they have been fully heard and understood. Remember how frustrated you felt the last time you presented an idea and it was shut down before you felt you had the chance to fully explain it.

#4 – Instead of stating why an idea can’t be done, state what is required from your perspective to make the idea work. Phrased this way – what needs to be done to make an idea work – your objection to the idea is served up as a problem to be solved rather than a flat rejection. You shift from someone who is saying “no” to someone is giving helpful insights and facts. While you may actually see the challenge you pose as insurmountable, often others will bring creative solutions to the table that may make the idea feasible. A marketing director in a manufacturing company proposed an idea for a new product. The operations director’s first instinct was to jump in and say, “We can’t make your product because we don’t have the right equipment.” But instead he said, “In order to make your products we will need to plan for having access to the right equipment which we currently don’t have.” That led to a full discussion about what it would take to lease, buy or outsource the production. Once the marketing person had a greater understanding of the different options and their costs, she came to the conclusion that the idea was not feasible.

#5 – Help the other person save face whenever possible. If you feel compelled to shut an idea down, ask yourself, “Do I need to shut the idea down right now and during this meeting?” Perhaps you can circle back with the idea presenter after the meeting to meet one-on-one. Shutting down a staff member’s idea in your department meeting is a good way to help ensure no one on your staff will risk bringing up new ideas in the future that might be extremely valuable to the success of your team and organization. If peers lose face because of you, there is a good chance that they will increasingly work around you and you will be the last to know about their future initiatives. Circling back after the meeting also provides you more time to reflect and prepare. You can gather more facts and information, be more thoughtful and tactful in sharing your opinion, and perhaps get into a longer and more open conversation.

#6 – Acknowledge the parts of an idea you can agree with. Even if you can’t agree with the entire idea, acknowledging components can help to validate the presenter of the idea, at least in part. Very often there are aspects of ideas that idea are valuable and can be evolved to be very usable and helpful. Imagine yourself saying, “I like this part of the idea, let’s dig deeper into the other part.” Provide recommendations on what might make the idea better or more workable. Even when his idea has flaws, the person might be calling attention to an important, underlying problem that needs to be solved.

In conclusion, don’t lose sight of the fact that if a truly bad idea needs to be challenged, challenge it. The primary emphasis here is not to change what you need to say, but on the process and timeline you choose to say it in order to maintain social capital and goodwill. Remember, soon will come the time when it is you who is the one striving to influence others to buy into your idea.

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Facing Change at Work? First, Take a Deep Breath

  I was moderating a panel discussion at a Fortune 500 company, and the topic was change. A challenging question was thrown to a Senior VP panelist, “What do you do when you have to communicate and execute organizational change that you don’t believe in?” She had a profound answer:

“I do what I always do when I hear about a big change – First, I take a deep breath.”

There was palpable change in the audience on hearing these words. It’s like we all paused and took a collective deep breath. There was laughter, and a sense of relaxation.

Hearing about change can be a shock. If we’re not careful, we can quickly become flooded by fear. In that state, we may become paralyzed and can do nothing, or we may exhibit a negative reaction. It’s the classic “flight or fight” response as we focus on survival.

We are conditioned to want to jump into action when we face a challenge. Yet we rarely take the best actions when we’re in that reactive mode. It’s usually wiser to wait until the shock wears off and we’ve stepped back from the situation.

Taking a deep breath provides a space to just relax, think and absorb the new information. It also reminds us that whatever we do, whatever happens won’t be the end of the world. It helps put everything in perspective and relaxes us so that we can see more clearly.

“First, take a deep breath” is a great approach to your whole life, not just dealing with organizational change. Whenever something happens in your life that triggers a stress response, you’ll be more effective if you can stay calm, cool and collected. Remember, whatever is going to happen will happen, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Deep breathing has profound and instantaneous benefits. Physically, deep breathing relaxes our muscles, lowers our blood pressure, massages our organs and helps with digestion. Emotionally, deep breathing calms our nerves and restores a sense of peace. Mentally, breathing brings clarity to our thinking and gives us access to our creative problem solving skills.

If you take the extra step of consciously practicing deep breathing, even just for a few minutes each day, you’ll be much better prepared to apply this technique when you’re faced with a big change or stressor, whether at work or anywhere else in your life.

P.S. What was the VP’s next move when executing a change she didn’t completely believe in? She said that she finds the parts of the change she CAN believe in, and begins by building on that.

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Have You Lost Your Career Dreams While Pursuing Your Career Goals?

  Years ago, I took a Leadership and Executive Development course and our homework was to write down our dreams for our career and life. This is easy, I thought, I know exactly what I want to achieve. These were things like the next step in my career, my weight loss target, my ideal income over the next three years and getting my kids into a good college.

After typing my list, all of a sudden it dawned on me that these weren’t dreams, these were goals! So what is the difference between dreams and goals, anyway?

Dreams live on the emotional right side of the brain; goals live on the rational left side. Dreams are bigger, more visionary and are not bound by the rational.

One of my dreams as a professional speaker is to give a keynote speech at the annual conference of the National Speakers Association. Could that be considered a goal? Sure. But what makes it a dream is the vision I have of presenting in front of an audience of several thousand people, including some of the best speakers in the world. I can almost feel the thrill of standing there. This dream speaks directly to my heart.

A goal for my professional speaking career would be more rational and easily broken down, like doing 50 professional speeches this year. That speaks to my head and is a logical step toward my bigger vision goal.

Yes, dreams can sound like goals and goals can sound like dreams, in fact they can be one in the same. To discern between the two, ask yourself: Was this idea born from my heart and imagination or from my head and rationality?

I wondered if other business professionals were also more focused on goals rather than dreams, so I started asking them. Time after time, when I asked, “What are your goals?” they spoke quite precisely about their income goals, retirement goals, goals for getting their kids through college, goals to reach a certain level in the corporation, or goals to purchase a boat or a second home. When I asked, “What are your dreams?” however, more often than not they were at a loss for words.

Fast forward to a dinner conversation I was having with a friend who is a high school guidance counselor. As we discussed the distinction between goals and dreams, she caught me off guard when she said, “That’s what drives me crazy about some of these kids. They have big dreams but they don’t have any goals. They dream of being actors, veterinarians, professional ball players and CEOs, but they aren’t creating any goals to get there.” Wow, high school students have the exact opposite challenge of business professionals. They have dreams but lack goals.

So what happens between the time we are 18 to the time we reach 38, 48 or 58? At what point to we trade in the dreams that speak to our heart for the goals that speak to our mind? When did the “real world” make us so practical?

I encourage all of you high achievers in the goal-oriented business world to step back and ask yourself some important questions:

Are you still in touch with the dreams you had as a younger person?
Are the goals you have today aligned with your dreams of earlier years?
Do you ever get the sense you are on a fast train to the wrong destination?
If you were to start dreaming again today, where would your heart take you?

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Want Your Change Effort to Move Faster? Slow Down!

  Five Tips for Successfully Navigating the “People” Side of Change

Is your organization rolling out a major change? Restructures, mergers, acquisitions, new systems and new business lines are the norm as companies move to respond to a more challenging and increasingly fast-moving, unpredictable business environment.

When launching a significant change initiative, one of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to view the change as an event that happens at a single point in time.  Accepting and then embracing change is a process not an event.  No matter how well you craft your initial announcement to employees, this should be viewed as just one of many conversations to generate employee buy-in, not the end.  People naturally have resistance to change; for many, buy-in is a process that may take days, weeks or even months to achieve.  Expect immediate buy-in at your own risk: at best you may achieve compliance without lasting commitment.

Here are five tips that can help you increase your odds of success by focusing on the people side of change.

One: Don’t judge individuals by their initial reaction.  Give people time to come on board and process the change before judging their willingness to accept the change and be a team player. When making a big announcement on a major change, recognize that the shock of the news will instantly start minds spinning over the personal ramifications.   It is people’s natural survival instinct to immediately focus on the fear of loss or loss of control rather than to appreciate the potential benefits of a change.  Don’t be surprised if some initial reactions are quite negative.  Some individuals may need several weeks before going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: shock and denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.  You may falsely judge that an employee won’t come on board with the change if you observe them while they are in the early stages.  However, keep in mind that this does not mean that they will not eventually accept the change once they are able to process it.

Two: Realize that much of what you say immediately after making the announcement may not be heard.  The shock of learning about major change can start people’s minds spinning.  Lost in their own thoughts, people may not be clearly hearing and absorbing important details that you may be communicating.  Leaders are always surprised to learn, after making a major announcement loaded with helpful and important information, how little was actually heard.  Keep in mind that, as the leader planning the change, you have had weeks or perhaps months to process the change yourself during what typically involves weeks or months of planning meetings.

Three: Ask your staff how they feel about the change.  When you ask employees what they think about the change, what you are asking is, “Is the change logical from a business perspective?”  You may get a very positive response, which may fool you into believing the staff member is emotionally on board.  However, one can think the change is a rational and yet personally feel very threatened.  Asking the staff member what they feel about the change may elicit a very different answer regarding their emotions, allowing you to better understand and address concerns.

Four: Allow your key managers to have time to process and accept change themselves, before they meet with their staff.  Change needs to be cascaded down the organization.  Executives need to bring their managers on board and then managers need to bring their staff on board.  Because of legitimate fears about controlling news about change, managers often hold meetings with their staff before they have had a chance to process and accept the change themselves.  If managers are working to convince their staff that the change is positive, yet they are not fully committed themselves, messages from the manager will be perceived as disingenuous.

Five: Identify and bring key opinion leaders on-board first.  In every team, there are opinion leaders outside the ranks of management who other staff members take their cues from.  There also are staff members who more quickly accept change or perhaps even embrace it.  If you can early on enlist the key people who both embrace change and are opinion leaders, they can help set the tone for the group’s reaction to change.

Paradoxically, moving too fast can make your change initiative take longer. When you don’t take the time to build commitment, people act out of self-interest and fear, resulting in decisions and actions that can slow down or even sabotage your change efforts.  By recognizing that change is a process, you will be in a better position to successfully manage the “people” side of change, significantly increasing the odds of creating successful change.

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