I once had a client come to a session feeling incredibly frustrated. I asked what happened. He, an
experienced engineer but new employee at his company, said he was in a meeting where his colleagues
were expressing the challenges of one of their key computer programs. My client piped up and said
something along the lines of, “This program is archaic. We really need to switch to this other system—it
will solve all of our current frustrations and give us more functionality.” I knew what was coming next.
My client continued, “And do you know how they reacted? They completely rejected my suggestion and
went back to discussing the current software.”
How did I know what was coming? Because NO ONE likes being told they’re an idiot. And that’s basically
what my client did.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve made the same mistake. Once I was giving a presentation to several leaders
and employees of a large, international organization. Someone brought up a program that had been in
place for years. I was leading the discussion and said something about how I didn’t know why the
program was still in place when it wasn’t even a good program, to begin with. As an afterthought, I
added jokingly, “I hope none of you were the creators of that program.” A small hand raised in the back,
and I realized that the hand was attached to the representative from the international headquarters.
So how do you get buy-in? How can you help others hear what you have to say and be open to your
ideas? Truthfully, there are no easy answers here, and every situation is going to require a different
approach. But here are some tips that will help.
Listen attentively to what others have to say
If you want others to listen to you, you have to start listening to them. Yes, you may have the best
idea, but before you dismiss the status quo, ask questions about the history of the issues, what has been
tried, how you all got to where you are now. Ask your questions from a place of curiosity and open-
mindedness—you don’t want your questions to sound like an interrogation! By using your best listening
skills, you will help create a work culture where people are listening to each other, and you may also
hear important information that could alter the solution that’s formed in your mind.
Get clear on what the problem is that you’re trying to solve
Making sure everyone is on the same page on the challenge at hand is important for two reasons. First,
as crazy as it sounds, people are often trying to solve different issues. For example, in the case of the
archaic computer software, my client was trying to solve the issue of inefficiency and getting the work
done more accurately and more timely. Others in the room were focused on immediate project
deadlines. Can you see how they would have freaked out about purchasing and implementing new
software when their project had a manufacturing deadline coming up in a few weeks?
Before delving into solutions, take time to help the group identify the challenge that most needs to be
solved or prioritize the multiple challenges. The more complex the situation, the more likely you’ll need
a multi-tiered solution that deals with immediate and long-term needs.
Second, when you get an agreement on the problem or the priority of the problems, that’s a win! You get a
baseline of common understanding and the unity that comes from being on the same page. From here,
it’s much easier to work through different perspectives and disagreements because you can always go
back to common ground.
Don’t rush into a decision
Some people are very decisive, but may sometimes rush into decisions without having all of the
necessary data. Others excel at data collection and brainstorming but are hesitant to make a decision.
When seeking buy-in, be cognizant of both of these personality preferences and find a balance between
them. For example, before presenting your ideas and the best solution for the problem, brainstorm
different solutions—including staying with the status quo—and then back up each option with data.
While this might seem tedious or time-consuming, the data will probably point everyone into a similar
stance on what the best solution would be. And the burden of defending your idea is not really on you
anymore—you’re letting the data speak for itself.
Getting buy-in is a science and an art that takes careful planning, patience, and practice. Start small and
try one of these suggestions and see what impact it has on your relationships with your co-workers and
your ability to influence decisions.