Bringing Ideas to Life
by Rick Maurer
Principles for Pulling Together
You thought your brilliant idea would blow them away, but after the presentation, they were less than impressed. You know your idea is a sure money-maker, so what went wrong? Resistance, that's what. Here's what you can do to overcome it.
You’re so excited you’re practically bouncing off the walls. This idea—your best ever—is not only going to save the company tens of thousands of dollars this year, it’s eventually going to be a moneymaker. However, following your presentation, your three colleagues sit staring at you like “hear no evil,” “see no evil,” and “speak no evil.” You stare back at them in idiotic wonder: Why don’t they want what you want, especially when it’s so clearly the best thing for the company?
Almost everyone has this experience at one time or another, and the reason for it is simple: When you make a presentation instead of having a conversation about an idea, it’s anyone’s guess what’s going on in the minds of your audience. Do they get it? Do they like it? Do they like you?
Some idea people really don’t care how they’re heard. They’re movers and shakers who pride themselves on being able to create and implement ideas on their own. Others care more about interpersonal relationships than ideas. For them, what’s truly important is being aware of and sensitive to the needs, notions, and feelings of colleagues, not bringing great ideas to life.
Being just an idea person or just a relationship person limits your effectiveness in the workplace. The way to bring your ideas to life is to focus on developing the ideas and enhancing your relationships with coworkers simultaneously. Go into the conference room with the intention of sharing your idea and involving others in shaping, strengthening, and implementing the concept in its final form. By engaging others in the innovation process, you’ll emerge with superior results and stronger bonds between people.
Intention is one of the principles for pulling together. The others are:
- Recognize resistance. People resist ideas—and those who generate them—for three reasons. Either they don’t get the idea (Level 1 resistance), they don’t like the idea (Level 2 resistance), or they don’t like you (Level 3 resistance). Identify the levels of resistance you’re facing and you can work through them, turning opposition into support. For example, if someone doesn’t get your idea, find a different way to explain it, and offer data, examples, and anecdotes to make concepts clearer. If people exhibit Level 2 or 3 resistance when you make a suggestion—“I don’t like it,” or “I don’t like you”—their emotions are clearly involved. You need to listen carefully to what they have to say and engage in conversational give and take to get at the deeper issues underlying their resistance.
- Consider the context: Time + place + relationships = the success or failure of your idea. Interpersonal and other contextual “land mines” are scattered throughout most work environments. If you don’t survey the land and step carefully, you’ll set them off and you and your idea will suffer. Land mines to consider include:
1. Your relationship history with colleagues and coworkers
2. The way ideas have traditionally been presented and received in your company
3. The impact your idea may have on others—for instance, it might threaten someone’s job or status
4. How the idea might fly given the current economy
5. Your company’s recent financial performance
- Avoid knee-jerk reactions. When someone cuts you off in traffic, is your impulse to speed up and let him know you didn’t appreciate it? If so, speeding up (and possibly tailing the person with your bright lights on) is your knee-jerk reaction to the “trigger” of being cut off. Not only does your knee-jerk reaction not help the situation, it could cause an accident and turn what might have been a relatively minor irritation into a very big deal. The better response? Take a few deep breaths and slow down to put some space between you and the inconsiderate driver in front of you. It’s the smarter and safer way to react.
Slowing down and breathing deeply is also a smart response to triggers in the corporate conference room. When someone resists your idea by saying “I don’t like it, it’s stupid,” you might be tempted to react with defensiveness (“No, you’re stupid.”), sarcasm (“Why don’t you grace us with one of your wonderfully creative ideas, then?”), force of reason (if you explain the idea repeatedly, he’ll see its wisdom and beauty and like it), or moving ahead as if the resistance—and the resister—don’t exist. The best way to avoid knee-jerking is to discover your triggers and to practice stepping back, breathing, consciously relaxing your body and mind, and focusing your attention on positively reconnecting with the people who are resisting.
- Pay attention: Attempt to detect every detail. You can’t influence others if you don’t pick up on the positive and negative signals they send by way of body language, verbal cues, tone of voice, and so forth. Listen to their concerns with a willingness to change and a willingness to see your idea develop beyond your original conception; observe the interactions between you and those you’re working with; and note what kinds of actions—or inactions—follow the group’s decision to proceed with your idea. The power of paying attention guides you in your efforts to bring the idea to implementation.
- Shut up and listen: Dig deeply. Want to know what others need or want from you? Wish you knew if they understood your idea or if they trust you? The only way to get answers to these questions is to put your goal aside temporarily and check in with the people you’re working with. Then, shut up and listen to what they have to say, even when their answers make you uncomfortable.
- Connect without compromise. Make room for others to join you in developing your idea—and be ready and willing to turn it into our idea. When others see that you’re eager to hear their fears and concerns, want to be influenced by what they have to say, and want to blend your goals with theirs, their opposition will turn into support and everyone will win.
Rick Maurer is an Arlington, Virginia-based advisor to individuals and organizations on building support for change. He is author of Why Don’t You Want What I Want? How to Win Support for Your Ideas Without Hard Sell, Manipulation, or Power Plays (Bard Press, $16.95).
© 2002 Rick Maurer. All rights reserved.