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Hear ‘Great idea, but …’ for the final time

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Issue: How to win approval for your ideas.

Benefit: Develop a reputation as a consensus-builder who isn't afraid to incorporate other people's ideas into your own.

Action: Practice the divide-and-conquer technique with a co-worker before using it on management team members.


How many times have you approached the management team with a great idea, only to be politely (or not so politely) told that the organization doesn't need or can't afford your idea right now?

Take heart: It's probably not that your idea didn't hold water. It's more likely that you failed to line up support for it beforehand.

In fact, the biggest mistake you made was trying to sell your idea to the management team as a group. It's much more effective to influence their thinking one person at a time. Here's how: 

  • Meet with senior managers individually. Tell them you want to propose an idea to the team, and you want to hear their thoughts about the idea first.
  • Briefly explain your idea, and (here comes the important part) share your thoughts on both the idea's positives and negatives. That sends the signal that you're open to honest feedback and interested only in improving the idea.
  • Sit back and listen to the other person's input; don't defend your idea or any part of it.
  • Ask for clarification on each point of concern or disagreement. One helpful technique: Paraphrase the manager's concern. Example: "So you're saying this might be a problem because ...."
  • Keep clarifying and asking for input until you feel you've heard, and understand, each manager's concerns. Then you're ready to ask two crucial questions:
  1. "If you were in my role, how would you recommend that I proceed with having this idea discussed at an upcoming meeting?"
  2. "What would it take for you to support this idea?"

Armed with that information, you can determine what kind of support your idea has ... and how you might amend it to garner even more support.

Does this approach ensure that every idea you propose will fly? Of course not. But it will help you avoid surprises, as well as show the management team that you're interested in doing what's best for the organization.

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