“If you’ve ever had an idea shot down at work, you know it’s not a great feeling,” says workplace columnist Anita Bruzzesse.
Nearly every office has a person who shoots down ideas before they even get off the ground: the naysayer who always pinpoints the reason your idea won’t work.
“But here’s the problem,” she adds. “If you don’t learn to do a better job of presenting your ideas, chances are good the same thing will happen over and over, no matter where you work.”
The only way to defeat a naysayer is to be ready for her. Know how to respond to every one of the blockades she puts in your way.
John P. Kotter, a Harvard University professor andexpert, has just written a book called Buy In that explains the kinds of attacks that can dismantle good ideas—and how to deal with them.
He suggests ways to respond to these attacks:
• “Why change?” When someone questions the need for changing at all—because what’s been done in the past has always worked just fine—you can respond: “True. But we’ve seen what happens to those who fail to adapt. They become extinct.”
• “Why should we spend our time on something so minor and irrelevant?” Your idea might be attacked or brushed aside for being unimportant. Your response: “To all the people who spend 30 minutes every day wrestling with this problem, I can assure you, it isn’t irrelevant.”
• “It’s a drop in the bucket.” When your idea is attacked for solving only part of the problem, you can respond: “Yes, it’s just a start. But perhaps it will help us move in the right direction and help us reach a more complete solution faster.”
• “This isn’t how such-and-such does it.” Some may shoot down your idea because it’s different from an established practice, implying that, if it were such a great idea, other people would already be doing it. Your response: “There’s a first time for everything. We have a unique opportunity!”
• “We already tried this.” It’s a common tactic: People might say that your idea didn’t work in the past. Respond with, “That was then, and conditions have changed. Besides, what I’m proposing is slightly different from what was tried before.”
• “Let’s wait and see.” Beware of delay tactics that can stall your idea for eternity. Spur action by saying, “The best time to make something happen is when people are charged up about it. That time is now.”
• “It’s too much work.” This might be a legitimate concern. After all, many workplaces are doing more with less. But encourage others to consider the payoff of any extra work. Say, “Yes, it will take some work. But imagine the (increased morale, reduction in waste, etc.) that we’ll gain from this.”
... Accepting feedback
The flip side of having a ready comeback is knowing how to graciously accept that your idea may have some flaws.
Here are a few phrases that allow you to graciously accept feedback—and even enlist others in making your idea a reality:
"Great suggestion—thank you!"
"Tell me more about what you're thinking."
"You seem to have some valuable insights on this idea. Would you be interested in helping me implement it?"
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