Making people appreciate radically new ideas

29 Mar

Has it ever happened to you that you were sharing with your colleagues or friends an innovative approach to move things forward but instead of trying to fully understand you, they started asking loads of questions right from the beginning? It has certainly happened to me. Some time ago, I had a chat with one my good friend who was preparing for his upcoming elections and who seemed to have had the same problem. Here is the advice I gave him based on my experiences so far.

The number one question you should be constantly asking yourself is ‘Am I making people feel safe?’

People naturally tend to be wary of anything unfamiliar to them. This started with our mums telling us not to take sweets from strangers and continued with our fear of being confused (and therefore being or appearing to be vulnerable) or, worse still, a fear of being replaced by somebody, or in the case of organizations, something else. None of these situations make people feel safe in their minds.

When people do not feel safe, the number one priority for them is getting in their comfort zones again. In this case, they usually stop listening to what you are saying and start thinking about ways to regain control of the situation. This often means coming up with lots of arguments why what you are saying is wrong. Your chances of winning support for your idea suddenly get slimmer because your audience no longer pays attention to your suggestions and therefore they are not able to fully understand your (possibly sound) proposal.

When presenting innovative ideas, your main priority should therefore be making people feel safe about what you are saying. If you ever get a feeling that people are not feeling safe, stop rambling on and get people back on board before proceeding any further. This will make them feel comfortable and therefore be more receptive to your suggestions. And unless people are able to grasp what you are saying and create a positive mental image of the proposed situation, they are not going to agree to it.

Here are some tips on making people feel safe:

1. Take your audience through a process of building a mental image. Start with what they already know and then use verbs such as imagine or picture to help them build the new image step by step.

2. Think in advance about what might be the main causes of discomfort and make sure you address them yourself early on in your presentation. How would the status quo be changed? Would anybody be worse off? Would it require changes to any old habits? Does it go against the current prevalent thinking?

3. Pause every now and then and simply ask people if they understand what you are saying and if they have any concerns at this stage. Be silent until it gets uncomfortable (at least 6 seconds) to allow everybody to speak up. Make sure to acknowledge your understanding of all concerns voiced and either address them immediately or say that you will get back to this later on. Try remembering the person’s name and when you get to that topic say that XY asked you earlier and that this is how you are addressing her question.

Best of luck presenting your innovative ideas next time aroud for most new things seemed radical the first time somebody dared to propose them!

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