Change is vital for organizations to survive and flourish in today’s dynamic and shifting environments. Leaders who make a difference encourage and support people and organizations through change.
Leading change is one of the most challenging responsibilities for leaders - because of the push back that surfaces in front of the change. Whether it’s a team meeting, a coaching session, or selling a direction for the future, here’s what leaders often hear when they share their thoughts about an important change:
“It’s too expensive. We can’t afford it.”
“That’s just the way it is. It’s not worth fighting that battle.”
“We’re too busy. You want to add more to our plates?”
“That’s not going to work. We tried that before.”
“I’d like to help. Really, I would. I just can’t.”
In the language of sales, these are called objections. They are legitimate reasons for not changing or otherwise doing something different.
Unfortunately, the natural response to objections is exactly the wrong thing to do. Most leaders pound down the offending objections immediately, and end up playing an endless game of Whack-A-Mole.
Here’s an example of what this can sound like - when I'm trying to help my kids:
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
“Why don’t you ride a bike? It’s a beautiful day.”
“Yeah, I could but my tire is flat.”
“Well, why don’t you get the patch kit and fix it?”
“Yeah, I could but I don’t know where it is…”
You get the idea.
If my kids didn't teach me well enough, my friend and mentor, Richard Reardon, summed it up with the following:
"The only person who can resolve an objection is the person having the objection."
Yet you want to help people move past their objections. So how do you do that?
How to help people move forward in three easy steps
Step One: Get it all out on the table
When you hear an objection, first validate that it’s real for the person having the objection with:
“So you think it could take more time than we have available?” or something similar.
Honor their thoughts by restating the objection back to them with as much of their language as possible.
Once validated, WRITE THE OBJECTION somewhere visible. Use a white board, a piece of paper, the back of a beer coaster…whatever will help you both not have to keep it at the front of your minds. Then ask:
“And what else could prevent us from being successful?”
Repeat until the well is empty. Get everything out. Before you move to the next step, assure the objector(s) “If something else comes up that could prevent us from being successful, we’ll add it to the list.”
Step Two: Help them figure out what’s most important
Next, ask: “Which of these do you think are the biggest stumbling blocks?”
If you wish to explore further, instead of the typical “Why is that?” – which can be perceived as accusatory – try “How is that?” or “What makes you say that?”
Note: you need to be able to share your thoughts on why an objection really COULD be a problem. This may seem counter-intuitive, yet when you validate another's perspective you are validating them personally. Plus this practice demonstrates that you are looking for the best solution, and not just your solution. (Because that’s what you’re really looking for, right?)
Put a star or underline or otherwise mark those items, then proceed to…
Step Three: Help them figure out how to overcome the challenges
Ask: “What could we do to minimize the impact or go around these important challenges?”
Write down the action plan steps. If needed, ask questions to surface the best order to work in, what help might be most helpful from you, and so on.
Step Four: Wait…I thought you said just three steps?
Just before you part, ask one more question: “What could get in the way of us being successful with this plan?”
Go back up to Step One and repeat the process with the action steps to ensure success. This may seem redundant, yet putting in a lock-stitch at this point can prevent your plan from unraveling later.
As we wrap up here, I've one favor to ask – let me know if you see anything that could get in the way of you being successful with this approach helping others overcome their own objections, ok?