Need to communicate with your boss in a way that overcomes resistance? (If it's a larger audience or management team you're facing, download our cheat sheet, "7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance.") Whether it's project related or personality-based, getting your boss to buy into a necessary change can be frustrating, and damaging to your company if you're not successful.
This article discusses three ways to effectively counter resistance you know will be coming your way. It's a method that helps you use your communication skills for personal branding. The resistance can be based on your attempts to "sell" an idea, vision, product, or system to your superior. He or she may be armed and ready for personal combat, but there are ways you can enter the arena and come out unbloodied.
Let's say you're proposing that your department purchase a computerized system for some aspect of your operations. Your boss, Oldeways T. Hinker, had experience with this product in the past and didn't like it one bit. But that's part of the point: it was in the past. These days, the system is much improved, and all of the objections your boss posed previously can easily be neutralized.
Shouldn't you just come out and tell Oldeways that the world has moved from flat to round in the interim, and it's time to get with the program (Duh!)?
Well, here's another question: How do you feel about a lengthy tenure of unemployment? If the thought doesn't light your fire, try this trio of tactics instead on your recalcitrant jefe:
1. Characterize or Frame the Issue. One of the tenets of the media training I conduct for clients is the value of reframing a question that's been asked. Generally, in dealing with the media, you should answer topics not questions. You should also use every question asked as an opportunity to make your critical points. The same rule applies with a resistant boss. He or she has been thinking about an issue (the one you're pulling for, while he or she is pushing back on) from a particular vantage point, perhaps for some time. What will happen if your boss is invited to see the problem from a different point of view? If you think carefully about how to characterize or frame the matter at hand, you'll immediately recognize that the entire issue or problem looks different. And why wouldn't it, since it's viewed from a different angle?
Let's take the computer system you'll be proposing your company purchase. Your boss sees it as an obstacle—an inefficient or expensive or generally unsatisfactory solution that can't deliver what it promises. But your job is to approach the "sale" from another viewpoint entirely. You paint a picture of opportunity; or discuss the product in terms of its cutting-edge benefits; or mention how the competition is using the system to leave your company in the dust. Suddenly, the two views: the old one (your boss's) and the new one (yours) don't seem to be occupying the same universe. And don't forget to use the world's most powerful tool for persuading audiences.
2. Mirror Your Boss's Communication Style. "Mirroring" means adopting the style of communicating of the person you're talking to. It doesn't mean you become a minah bird; and it doesn't involve selling your soul and fawning at your boss's feet. It does mean becoming aware of how that person speaks and moves, and the rate and rhythm at which they do so.
For example, let's say the two of you agree to meet in the small conference room. You're both sitting at the table as your discussion begins. But your boss is a mover: when he begins to outline his objections, he immediately rises and begins pacing as he talks. For him, movement helps thinking (and indeed, the theory of embodied cognition specifically equates movement with thinking abilities). When he's finished, he sits down. Now it's your turn. Do you stay seated as though the chair was covered with fly paper? Or do you "mirror" your boss's style of moving while talking? If you do the latter, there's a good chance he'll relate to you and your argument more easily. You can also use the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking to make you that much more effective.
What kind of imagery does your boss use when she speaks? Sports metaphors? The language of feelings? Comparisons to family, teams, and communities? Whatever it may be, why not adopt some of those metaphors yourself? And does your boss use visual ("I see your point"), auditory ("I hear what you're saying"), or kinesthetic ("We need to get our arms around this problem") imagery? Pay attention enough to find out. Then use the same language yourself to buttress your argument.
3. Anticipate Objections. If you know you're going to be facing resistance on an issue, there's no excuse in the world for not anticipating the nature of that resistance and heading it off. Think about defense attorneys: don't they always try to bring up a skeleton in their client's closet before the plaintiff or the prosecutor does? To raise an objection yourself—especially if you're opposed to it—is to partially defuse it.
There's another benefit here: your boss will understand that you've thought this issue through carefully. In his or her mind, your argument won't be a one-sided affair in which you weight your argument in your own favor and shoot down one straw man after another. You'll actually be raising real objections, the very ones your boss was prepared to bring up. If he or she has already brought them up before you've had a chance to speak, reintroduce them, but in a kinder, gentler version that doesn't implicate your boss directly: "Now some people still believe that . . ." or "You know, it's amazing how much this product has improved from the first version."
Of course, these three tactics for overcoming resistance aren't only effective with bosses; they'll work for discussions with anyone who you know will be resisting your ideas. Don't be surprised if by using them, you get a reputation as an effective communicator.Key takeaways from this blog:
- The inability to overcome resistance can hurt your company or you personally.
- If you reframe an issue, you'll both be looking at it from a new angle.
- "Mirroring" another's communication style may get them on your wavelength.
- If you know you're facing resistance, anticipate and address objections.