Anyone over the age of five has run into naysayers rejecting something you proposed. In your early years, it’s the people who critique your coloring or your drawings. Sometimes they tell you there’s no such thing as a veterinarian-astronaut-chef and you couldn’t possibly grow up to be one.
Overcoming naysayers can be difficult.
That lack of support steals our excitement about our prospects.
Some of us are amazing individuals who never hear “no” for an answer, who never take the naysayers to heart. Those people simply focus on what they want and make it happen. They don’t worry about failure and someone coming up behind them to say, “I told you that wasn’t going to work.”
But most of us aren’t like that.
Most of us are riddled with self-doubt and naysayers just make us question our abilities.
They often keep us from succeeding.
As a chamber professional, you’ll run into your fair share of naysayers. Most of the time when you do it’s because you’re proposing something that makes them uncomfortable. From an innovation perspective, this is a great indicator that you might be on the right track.
But even with that knowledge in mind, it’s hard to ignore their boisterous doubt that whatever you’re suggesting isn’t going to work.
This is especially difficult when those naysayers are on your board. While they may have the ultimate decision-making authority in some situations, you may need to convince them what you’re suggesting will work and be more successful than anything that’s been done in the past.
But how do you do that?
How do you stick your neck out on the proverbial chopping block when their lack of confidence in you has made you question your own?
In this article, we will cover several tips that will help you overcome your own lack of confidence and argue your point successfully in front of the naysayers, even if those naysayers are on your chamber board.
Ask Them Why
Your naysayers likely believe they’re acting in the best interest of the chamber. But before you allow them to take the wind out of your sails, it’s important that you understand why they don’t believe your idea will work. If they offer a “ that could never happen” or “ there’s no way we could do that” ask them to explain to you why they believe that.
If they say it’s never worked in the past, ask probing questions about how it’s been tried before. Maybe your idea only resembles what’s been tried in the past and you have a completely different approach. If you don’t ask specifics, you’ll never know their hesitation.
Another reason you want to ask them why is because overcoming naysayers means understanding that they say no because it’s easier than saying yes. To say yes to something that’s innovative means trying something new.
New can be frightening.
“No” is a much easier response.
But if you require them to explain why they’re saying “no” they will need to think about their response. When they do, they may realize they don’t have a good reason why they’re saying no. Even if they don’t realize this, you will. If they can’t give you a reason, you can proceed as you see fit.
If they give you a reason, listen and examine it.
Is it a viable concern? What research do you have that you can use to sell your position or combat their fears?
There are some decisions within the chamber where the board has the ultimate say, including your employment. So before you completely discount what they’re saying you want to keep this in mind.
However, there are some activities within the chamber that as the executive director or president/CEO you have the ultimate say. Before making any suggestion know which category your suggestion falls into. Is the ultimate say on this topic theirs? Or is it yours?
If it’s theirs, you’ll be on the defensive and you’ll need to present your argument like you would in a court of law or as you would pitching for an agency. You will need to personalize the approach and address what they’re most concerned with. If your idea is a way to increase revenue, for instance, come armed with data that can back you up. Anticipate their questions and their concerns as you get ready for the pitch.
If, on the other hand, the decision is ultimately yours you still want to provide the reasons behind your idea but you needn’t wait around for their support. In those cases, your job is to help them see your decision-making process but ultimately that decision is yours.
Overcoming naysayers often means giving them credit when they are right. While you’re asking your detractors to give you the reasons behind their argument, don’t discount them all. If you’ve supported and encouraged them to grow in their chamber board position, they should have, at heart, the desire to help you. If they bring up a good point, especially one you hadn’t thought of, thank them for helping you see some of the obstacles you may encounter. And let them know you’re going to look into the concern and get back to them.
If you have data to help alleviate their concerns you can present it. But if it’s a new challenge you hadn’t thought of take the time to look into it and appreciate the fact they brought it to your attention.
Make an Ally
If your naysaying board member has a particular skill or brought up a valid challenge, consider making them an ally in your project. Ask for further insights and their expertise. Then ask them if they might help consult or pave the way in a particular area. For instance, if your naysayer is a marketing guru, ask them for help in that area on your project.
There are three benefits to doing this. Number one: this person has proven they are not a “yes person.” They obviously don’t have a problem telling you their opinion. Sometimes, if you can keep it from getting personal, you can create a valuable working relationship with someone who you know will always give you their honest opinion.
The other reason this is valuable is that people tend to support things that they’re involved in. If you enlist this person’s assistance and they agreed to do help–even in a consultative role–they may feel personally invested. Even if they’re busy pointing out the faults with the plan, they may ultimately want to see it succeed because they’re helping with it even if that help is from a negative angle.
The final reason this works is because of what psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance and what many marketers call the Benjamin Franklin effect. It’s so named because of a tactic Benjamin Franklin used in overcoming naysayers. The notable example is when he used it to make an ally out of a rival legislator who continually argued with him. First, he borrowed a book from his nemesis. His nemesis likely agreed to loan him the book out of a social obligation but by doing so he did Benjamin Franklin a favor.
As Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
The human mind naturally assumes that when we do someone a favor they are a good and deserving person. By jumping to this conclusion, Franklin was in a position to ask for an additional favor. And again it was granted.
The human mind is unable to hold onto negative thoughts while granting a favor. The granting of the favor makes the grantee feel positively about the person they are doing the favor for as long as the favor does not become too burdensome.
You can do the same thing Benjamin Franklin did by asking something small of your naysayer. For instance, if they bring up a reason your idea won’t work and they quote something that has happened in the past but can’t remember the details, ask them as a favor to research that for you so that you know exactly what they’re referring to. Suggest that they are in the best position to get that information and to speak on that as nobody else has the necessary knowledge.
By making them feel valuable, thanking them for their idea, and asking them as a favor to report back, they will likely become more supportive of your efforts. Again, you don’t want to ask a big favor that will take a lot of time but a small request is certainly fitting.
Final Considerations in Overcoming Naysayers
Are your innovative efforts being stymied by a board full of naysayers? You can use these tactics to help build support for the things you’d like to accomplish.
If all else fails, it’s important to differentiate between the minor skirmishes and the major wars. There’s no point using a lot of resources for something insignificant but if you know that your idea can have a major impact on the success of your chamber go for it with all that you have.