May 28, 2013

Influence by making it their idea

We all say we are open to change but in reality, well, it depends.

When solving CIDNI problems in organizations, you are challenging the status quo, and this has implications for people who stand to lose something. They might lose tangible assets or just the comfort of knowing their current situation. That’s the so-called stickiness factor in marketing: I understand that the toothpaste you are advertising is better than the one I’m currently using, but I know my current one, so I will stick with it. Unless it is so much better that this increase in value overcomes my reticence to change.

Part of this stickiness can be explained by the “not invented here” syndrome. Another part might come from preconceptions, as Bazerman and Neale point out. The thinking pattern goes like this: “if you and I are negotiating and you are proposing something, surely it is for your own benefit, therefore it will go against my own interest.”

Make your ideas theirs

Of course, the situation would be different if changing toothpaste were my idea. So, as a problem solver, you should think about how you can influence people to come to realize that they want to change toothpastes. There’s a couple of things you can do.

First, engage people in the resolution process. Engage them early and frequently. You should engage them in the preparation of all key deliverables, including the project definition card and the issue trees. This will also have the benefit of boosting your creativity as the collective wisdom will help you think in more divergent ways.

Second, use the  Socratic method. In Mexico one of my coworkers was an expert at using it: by asking pointed questions, she would lead me wherever she thought I should be. It took me a while to figure it out and, after, I couldn’t help feeling like I was a bit of puppet. But, frankly, the end result was always better than what I could come up on my own, so it made sense.

Third, give credit. You can’t just engage people, incorporate their ideas and then pretend they are yours. Well, you can, but that’s neither ethical nor constructive. Instead, be generous with credit. If you can get people to engage in your initiative and contribute to it, you are already extremely valuable, so no need to steal away from others. Instead, be generous and watch how contributors appreciate that generosity and become willing to work with you again.

Finally, make sure that your conclusions aren’t a surprise to any of the key decision makers. If you’ll end up presenting your conclusions to a group of decision makers, make sure that you’ve been over those findings with each of them individually. This will reduce the likelihood of facing pushback. Granted, your presentation won’t be a suspenseful climax, but luckily that’s usually not needed.


Bazerman, M. H. and M. A. Neale (1992). Negotiating rationally. New York, The Free Press.