Many of us have been in the position, whether at work, at school or at home, of meeting resistance to what seems like a fabulous idea. The more we explain all the reasons that others should jump on board, the more we experience folded arms, polite refusals, or, even worse, the friendly smiles of people just waiting for us to go away.
In the Lean Six Sigma world, the ability to influence others is often bundled into a category called, “Soft Skills.” Being able to identify the 8 Wastes or conduct a 5S seems easy compared with getting your colleagues on board with the resulting changes. In his book, To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink offers up a series of simple techniques to help you think about your efforts such that others are more likely to join you in making process improvements a reality. The following are some key concepts and examples of how to make them work for you:
1. Pose and Answer Your Own Questions
When you’re preparing to persuade anyone, start by asking yourself, “will I be able to influence these people?” Then write down at least 5 specific reasons why the answer to your question will be, “yes”. You’ll end up with a list similar to this one:
- It’s going to save them money
- It’s going to make their jobs easier
- It’s going to make our customers love us
- It’s good for the environment
- It’s a great resume builder
Once you build your list of answers, you’ve got some solid influence strategies. Remember to actually write your answers down on paper. The act of writing puts us in the frame of mind of the “influencer”.
2. Send Yourself a Rejection Letter
For most of us, the memory of getting a rejection letter can conjure up the resulting “sting” or that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. But if you write your own letter, and you’ve got to start, “We regret to inform you…”, then it can be both helpful and somewhat humorous. What’s key is that by writing down all the reasons you’re being turned down, you’ve got a list of areas that need strengthening. It’s another great way to build your influence strategy.
3. Beware – The Opposite of Talking Isn’t Listening
It’s waiting to talk. People speak at about 150 words per minute, but we can process up to 650 words per minute, so what are we doing with that extra time? We’re deciding what to say next. Which means we’re not really listening. In fact, we generally don’t get any training on how to listen well, but it makes a big difference when you’re trying to understand resistance. Try the “15-Second Rule” which means waiting 15 seconds to respond once a person has spoken (or as long as you can wait). Say you’ve asked a colleague, “can we pilot the improvement in your department? If they say, “no”, and you don’t answer right away, they might add, “right now” or “because it’s tax season” which gives you the opening to ask, “when might be a good time?” Leaving that silence opens the door for understanding.
4. Less Is More – Offer Fewer Options
A well-known health insurance company was trying to track the reasons that health claims needed to be manually adjusted. They were trying to increase the number that could just flow through the system since that helped to keep costs down. They created a drop-down list of 27 potential reasons for claims adjusters to choose from, but when they looked at the data, it showed the most common reason was, “other”. When they talked to the processors they found out that the list just took too long to read. They worked hard to consolidate it to just 7 options, which the processors appreciated. After that they started using the entire drop-down list.
5. Make It Purposeful
One of the most effective ways for hospitals to keep down infections is to make sure doctors and nurses regularly wash their hands. When the research showed that the frequency was surprisingly low one facility conducted an experiment. They tried two different signs above soap dispensers for two weeks and then measured how much soap was used. The first sign read,
“Hand hygiene prevents you from catching disease” and the second sign read, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching disease”. The second sign resulted in significantly more hand washing whereas the first sign made no difference. We often assume that people are motivated by self-interest but research shows that people are more motivated when serving others. Consider your efforts and think about the impact on the greater community. Raising the focus of your efforts can become a powerful message.
In addition to using these 5 tips, you can make use of the Stakeholder Analysis template to list your stakeholder groups and think through your strategies.