When meeting with a school leader, I suggested we review data around concerns expressed by some students. The response was that the programs were well designed and that my request implied failure. Then I said, “I think the programs are going very well given we need to add systems to help take them to another level.” The leader responded saying, “that was the most important thing you have said.” Was my content different? No. I used a different in approach
John Kotter, in his book Buy-In (http://www.kotterinternational.com/book/buy-in/), described standard profiles and statements people use to kibosh ideas or suggestions. Specifically, he described four general and 24 specific attacks that people use to shut down ideas (see the examples of attacks and his recommended responses here: http://www.kotterinternational.com/insights/24-attacks-responses-buy-saving-good-idea-getting-shot/). While there are reasons to question suggestions, his work refers to instances when resistance is based on motivation other than information seeking. He listed several ways to prepare for meetings where conflict is anticipated. I applied two in this case.
- Prepare for the possible attack before the meeting. For my meeting, the profile of the leader had been related to Kotter’s profile “Alice Welly (all is welly).” I anticipated the resistance during the meeting would be specifically related to attack four, “so you are saying that everything we are doing is wrong.” In anticipation, I prepared my response to this attack before the meeting (see above). I had written down exactly what I would say if the comment “you are saying everything is bad” came up. Based on other experiences, I thought it might.
- Always be respectful when responding.
There are other important steps to this approach, and to buy-in in general. Kotter’s research related to this topic has changed my approach to meetings anytime I anticipate push back. His research can work for you too.