Get the Boss to Embrace Your Ideas

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Get the Boss to Embrace Your Ideas

Sarah Murray’s fine article Get the Boss to Embrace Your Innovation in 4/23/12 Financial Times got me thinking about the question implied in that title. Here is my comment on that site.

Breaking through barriers is extremely difficult, and made even more difficult when we fail to understand why people might not be as wild about our ideas as we are. Back in 2002 I wrote Why Don’t You Want What I Want? (Bard Press). In it, I identified three reasons why people resist our “brilliant” ideas.

1. They don’t get it. They simply don’t understand what we are talking about.  I have seen people try to make their pitches using their own professional jargon and going right over the heads of their audiences. I recall the head of a research lab refusing to use simple words to describe what they were doing, for fear that their peers in the field would think they were dumbing things down. Fair enough, except that they were trying to influence the US Congress and other potential funders who were not technical experts in their field. Same thing goes when you are trying to influence a boss who is not as well-versed on things as you are.

2. They don’t like it. Something about our idea scares them. This could cost me my job. I am an old dog, I could never learn that new software. I will lose face. Power. Control. These deep-seated emotional responses often are ignored. I found that people who influence well (good salespeople for example) know how to engage people so that these reptilian responses don’t get activated. When we try to influence up, we risk coming across as threatening. I once read a study (long since lost in mounds of paper I am afraid) that found that managers who might be considered A students or leaders tended to hire other A’s to work for them. However, B managers didn’t hire A’s or B’s; they hired C’s. So let’s assume you are an A who somehow is working for a B or C; then you and your ideas could be downright scary.

And 3. They don’t like us. If they don’t like us – or don’t trust us – they simply aren’t listening. So we may think we are doing well with 1 (information) and 2 (fear), but fail to gain the support we need because our audience doesn’t trust us. I find that clients I work with who are able to build support for their ideas enjoy the trust of the people they are trying to influence. In other words, people give them the benefit of their doubts.

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