You just heard NO to your Great Idea.
So, what do you do now?

You had a Great Idea. You read our blog on how to sell your idea (“Why can’t those people see that this is a great idea?”). You put together a great story to sell your Great Idea – but you just heard NO! And, you heard it from your boss or from the “senior” client on your project.

The easy path would be to accept that no, step back, and then follow the new direction you expect to receive. That response is always the easy path, but is it the best path for you and your organization? Probably not!

In our firm, we share a fundamental belief that anyone can lead, and that the most effective organizations have the most leadership. One critical leadership task is to develop and share ideas that may improve the organization. It’s not that your view is always right or useful, but it’s part of your job to have a view and share it – and also respond to the resistance you will encounter.

Instead of stepping back or arguing, your first reaction should be to ask a question about WHY the idea doesn’t work for the other person. My favorite question is, “I thought this idea would help address your interest in X. Can you help me understand why you won’t support it?” I like this question because it focuses on the other person’s interests AND it helps surface unspoken concerns about your idea. If the person responds, you can continue to probe for more information that can help you improve your proposal and gain commitment.

Unfortunately, some people may respond to your question with an attempt to control you. You may hear something like, “who are you to question my judgment?” If you get this reply, your second reaction should be to explain the reason for your question. I like to say something like “I thought that you were concerned about X, and I thought that this proposal would address your concern. Since it doesn’t seem to work for you, I need to understand your interests better, so I can address them effectively.”

A few people, sometimes people you see as authority figures, may even push you further and say something like “it’s not your place to ask questions, you simply need to follow my direction.” If you reach this point, you may have to use a skill we call managing natural consequences. Natural consequences are the effects of people’s choices on their interests. In this case, if the other person is unwilling to explain why or how the proposal isn’t useful, then you may struggle to give them any solution that works. When you use this technique you MUST begin with the person’s interests, and you MUST explain exactly how their choices can hurt their interests. I often say something like “I understand you want me to do X, and I am willing to do it but, if I don’t fully understand your interests, I may not bring back exactly what you need, which could cause us to waste time or miss your goals. Does that concern you?”

These skills won’t work if you think the goal is to “win” the argument. However, they can be very effective if your goal is to understand the resistance and develop ideas that get widespread commitment to action.


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