How to influence bewildered stakeholders who want to cling to misperceptions or excuses for ego or other deeply emotional reasons

Simon left a great comment asking some very important questions about influence and persuasion under my popular Time Alchemy video. Here are excerpts of his key points:

“Your methods are wonderful for getting to the core of the issues, which in my experience can save you  a lot of time when one is dealing [with]… agendas or plain naiveté…

“However I’m interested in your take on dealing with bewildered stakeholders who really want to cling to their misperceptions or excuses as to what needs to change for ego or other deeply emotional reasons. How to navigate them?

“…[T]hese types of persons inspire in me parts incredulity, sympathy and the desire to smack them upside the head!

“But every now and again I wonder if perhaps it’s me being overly harsh and that there might be a better balancing act between shooting them right between the eyes with the truth they have to hear to survive and being [overly] sensitive to bursting their bubble…?”

My reply was getting long and I decided it needed a post all of it’s own.  Here it is:

Hi Simon,

You touched on a lot in your question.  I’m going to address it by hitting on a few core insights; striking at the root.

1. Some people can’t be helped. They are like kids saying “Let’s play business and I’m gonna be the CEO.”  Walk away.

2. Many, many people CAN be helped and they want help.  It doesn’t mean helping them will be easy. (Heck, I can just think of myself.  I haven’t always made it easy for people to help me when I needed help.  Who does? We often need to grow in order to be helped and that takes time and some pain.)

3. You ask how to “deal with bewildered stakeholders who really want to cling to their misperceptions or excuses as to what needs to change for ego or other deeply emotional reasons.”

Notice how you are adding judgment here. You’ve observed certain behaviors, whatever they are, and you conclude that the person is “bewildered” and “wants to cling to his misperceptions.”

But in 99% of the situations, the observed behavior would just as easily support a different, less judgmental conclusion.   Forming unsupported conclusions is shooting yourself in the foot as you try to help.

4. In general, people will do what they perceive to be in their self interest.  And, people change s-l-o-w-l-y.

Abraham Lincoln’s genius (an aspect of it) was his ability to both lead and shape public opinion, but never get too far ahead of it.  He only freed the slaves when he felt public opinion had evolved enough to support his move.

When you want to influence, you often need do it in stages – with patience.

Just today I was helping a consulting client design his telephone sales system.  We looked at all the possible objections someone may raise to his particular offering – a kind of overseas outsourcing.

One particularly tricky objection for example is “patriotism.” If someone says “I don’t believe in sending jobs overseas…” what can you say to them?  They are ideologically opposed to outsourcing, even it if hurts their own business in the short and long run.

You can certainly interpret that as clinging to outmoded beliefs for “deeply emotional reasons.” But if you do, you’ll never get anywhere with that person.

If you want to get to the very root of influence and persuasion it is this: Your goal is not to CHANGE someone’s mind but to align yourself with what they ALREADY believe.

So when someone says “I don’t believe in sending jobs overseas” you don’t argue.  Instead you align.

“Of course not! That wouldn’t be very patriotic. Actually, we wouldn’t be replacing anyone in the US.  What I’m proposing is simply a way to make your current employees more productive and enable them to do more valuable work by unloading a very small part of their jobs.  We’d do it only as a test at first.  Far from sending jobs overseas, we’re here to help you be a stronger business so you can hire more people in your local community.”

So the action steps are:

(1) Slow down long enough to understand what they’re REALLY SAYING and then HELP them by aligning, not arguing or lecturing.

(2) You can do this more easily when you separate what people do and say from your interpretation and judgment.  Drop the interpretation.  Focus on what can be objectively observed.

We go deep into these ideas and more in our 100 Day Sprint program. Check it out. It may be the next step you’ve been looking for.

About The Author

Dov Gordon

Dov Gordon helps consultants and coaches get clients - consistently.