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, 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 and support their ideas, or at least to show respect and a willingness to listen before weighing in. If you don’t, you may find that your initiatives will increasingly fail to receive full and fair consideration.
The key here is to learn how to reject or redirect bad ideas in a thoughtful, positive, and more collaborative way. To avoid being perceived as a naysayer, consider employing one or more of these six tips:
Pause and take a deep breath before weighing in. Often it can feel like someone else’s idea hijacks you during a meeting because it poses a threat to your own goals, priorities, or resources. This is only natural; we are hard-wired to identify and react immediately to anything that may harm us. By simply pausing you allow 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.
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’ perspectives? You may hear a thought that sways your opinion. Or the opposite may happen: someone else may bring up the challenges you were going to raise. Even if you later reinforce the concerns, now you are not a lone dissenter.
One of my coaching clients was tired of always being the bad guy when he had to shut down ideas that didn’t make business sense. He started implementing this technique in team meetings and found that he ended up being the naysayer only half as often. Many leaders intentionally weigh in last so they can hear the opinions of their reports without biasing them first with their own thoughts.
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. As Steven Covey puts it, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Even if you ultimately disagree with the idea, you will be in a stronger 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 feels he has been fully heard and understood.
Instead of stating why an idea can’t be done, state what it would take, from your perspective, to make the idea work. Phrased as what needs to be done to make the idea work, your objection to the idea is served up as a problem to solve rather than a flat rejection. You shift from someone who is saying no to someone giving helpful insights and facts. While you may see the challenge you pose as insurmountable, others might bring creative solutions to the table that make the idea feasible.
Someone on my team once proposed a marketing idea for a new product. My first instinct was to jump in and say, “We can’t implement this because we don’t have the right equipment.” Instead, I said, “In order to pursue your idea, we’ll need 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.
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. Publically shutting down a team member’s idea is a good way to ensure that no one on your team will risk bringing up new ideas in the future—ideas that could prove to be extremely valuable to your organization’s success.
Circling back after the meeting also provides you with more time to reflect and prepare. Gathering more facts and information may allow you to be more thoughtful and tactful when you do share your opinion, and perhaps get into a longer and more open conversation.
Acknowledge the parts of an idea you can agree with. Even if you can’t agree with the entire idea, acknowledging components of it can help to validate the presenter of the idea, at least in part. Often you will find aspects of an idea that are valuable in themselves and may become 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 the idea has flaws, the person who presents it might be calling attention to an important, underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
Don’t get me wrong: 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 to modify the process and timeline through which you choose to say it, and in so doing, to maintain social capital and goodwill. Remember, soon the time will come when you are the one striving to influence others to buy into your idea.
CURT WANG is an Executive Coach at
Make The Leap! Coaching. He is also a
professional speaker on the topics of
leadership and organizational change.