Okay, so you've collected your facts and prepared a spreadsheet and PowerPoint slides. You're sure your evidence is overwhelming. You are ready to present your proposal to your community.
What could possibly go wrong?
Let's imagine that your audience doesn't know you. Or, maybe that you do have a relationship with them, but the last time you spoke, it did not go well. You have a credibility problem.
Jay Conger is leading authority on leadership. Years ago, he reported that the most persuasive senior business leaders he studied established their credibility first.
Conger found that the most persuasive leaders had two kinds of credibility: expertise credibility and relationship credibility.
Facts, figures and quoting experts will give you expertise credibility. Relationship credibility might take more time, but you are not ready to persuade without it.
Try genuine consultation. You may need to do that before you've decided what to do. If there's no choice about the action you have to take, that's a separate issue. (coming up).
Resist the temptation to suggest solutions as you ask questions. Consult them on the problems and opportunities they mention as you ask about their current situation and how they see the future. Probe to discover the size or significance of the problems or opportunities, as they see them.
Next, explore some possible solutions to the issues they've raised.
When you present your proposal, you could enhance your relationship credibility by recalling what people told you. Emphasise what you have in common: perhaps shared experiences, shared pride in the team's service or performance last year, or shared worries about the downturn in the market.
Only consult about things your audience can influence.
Let's say you've realised that you have far too much money tied up in company cars. You won't be consulting your team about whether to keep things as they are. The challenge is to build relationship credibility by consulting them on how to release the money for other things.
You might leave the answer to the how question open or say something like, 'I'm looking at various possibilities. One would be to sell the existing cars and lease replacements. Or we could pay the running costs for those who want to use their own cars. Maybe we could have some combination. Any thoughts - suggestions?'
Now listen. Don't judge.
Be clear about the kind of consultation you are doing. Are you unsure what action to take and want to hear their ideas first? Have you already decided something that's not open for debate, but want to hear what they have to say about how to implement it? (Think of the cars example.)
Be clear about their role in the decision-making. Will they be making the decision with a consensus or a vote? Will you be making the decision together? Will you be making the decision, but considering what they have to say? Will you be making the decision alone, but want to give them an opportunity to raise any issues?
That transparency is vital. If they assume that you will act on their ideas and you don't, your relationship credibility will be damaged: 'The boss asked us what we wanted, didn't like what she heard, so just ignored us'.
Ideally, you'll build reationship credibility over time. Being a genuine consulter is one way, but there are many more - including being genuinely interested in your audience and their concerns, focusing on the best outcome for the team, being comfortable with other people's emotions, doubts and loaded questions.
It’s an old debate. Should you ‘accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative’ or give them a reality check by telling them how serious things could be if they don’t accept your argument? It depends on their starting point. Philip Broemer of the University of Tubingen in Germany believes that the key issue is ambivalence.