Thursday, December 2, 2010

How To Keep Your Good Ideas From Being Shot Down at Work

Long before Debbie Downer ever came along -- or Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute hit the airwaves -- there have been naysayers in the workplace.

You know exactly who I'm talking about. Those people who shoot down your good ideas before they even get off the ground. The negative co-workers or bosses who always seem to have an argument as to why your plan won't work.

Sometimes, the only way to get past these people is to leave your job and take your good ideas to a more positive environment. But with unemployment so high, it's not likely you can just pack up and leave as you once may have considered.

So, how do you get your good ideas past the Debbie's and the Michael's and the Dwight's of the world? It's a subject I explored for my Gannett/USA Today column:

If you've ever had an idea shot down at work, you know it's not a great feeling.
You may feel frustrated, or angry, or both. You think about how short-sighted the people in charge must be and think maybe you'll just quit your job and take your creative genius to a company that appreciates good ideas.

But here's the problem: If you don't learn to do a better job of presenting your ideas, chances are good the same thing will happen over and over, no matter where you work.

If you can't learn to deal with all those people whose aim it is to knock your ideas out of the arena, then you're going nowhere in your career, says John P. Kotter, a Harvard University professor and leadership expert.

"I wouldn't be surprised if 9 out of 10 good ideas are killed off," Kotter says. "But we need good ideas more than ever because the world is moving so fast we can't do things like we did yesterday. We have to come up with new ideas on how to do things."

Kotter says as the competition for jobs has heated up, many of those in the workplace — perhaps unconsciously — will try even harder to shoot down the ideas of others in an effort to protect their jobs and their turf.

"We don't even know how many people decide to give up on offering ideas because they figure it's never going to fly after they've had so many ideas shot down," Kotter says. "They may decide they're willing to take one more (negative comment) — but then they're going to shut up."

In a new book with Lorne A. Whitehead, "Buy In," (Harvard Business Review, $22), Kotter explains the kinds of attacks that dismantle good ideas — and how to deal with those issues so that your good idea can move forward and get the support of others.

Specifically, the authors outline 24 common attacks, and how you can deal with them to keep your idea alive. Among them:

1. Why change? When someone questions why there is a need to alter a course that has worked in the past, then you should respond with, "True. But surely we have all seen that those who fail to adapt eventually become extinct."

2. Money should rule. When your idea is dismissed because money is the "real" issue — and your idea isn't about money — you can say, "Extra money is rarely what builds truly great ventures or organizations."

3. It's a trivial pursuit. If your idea is attacked for not being important, don't give up. Respond with, "To the good people who suffer because of this problem, it certainly doesn't look small."

4. It's too limited. Being accused that your proposal doesn't go far enough, you can answer, "Maybe, but our idea will get us started moving in the right direction and will do so without further delay."

5. No one else is doing it. If you're questioned as to why someone else hasn't already implemented your good idea somewhere else, point out that "there really is a first time for everything, and we do have a unique opportunity."

6. It didn't work before. Shooting down your idea by saying it's been done before is a common tactic — whether it's true or not. Just say, "That was then. Conditions inevitably change — and what we propose probably isn't exactly what was tried before."

7. Delay, delay, delay. You may be told that now isn't the "right" time for your idea, and it should be put off until something else happens, or changes. Don't be fooled by the person pretending to like your idea, only to try and squelch it. Say something like, "The best time is almost always when you have people excited and committed to make something happen. And that's now."

8. It's too much work. That's a genuine concern because most people in the workplace today really are overworked and underpaid. To battle that argument, respond with "Hard can be good. A genuinely good new idea, facing time-consuming obstacles, can both raise our energy level and motivate us to eliminate wasted time."

"These kinds of arguments are targeted at everyone from the 23-year-old entry-level workers to the executive vice president," Kotter says. "Even CEOs go through this. But if you understand the arguments that will be made, then you can gain the self confidence you need because you're using common sense to fight them."

What other ways can you get your good ideas heard?



James R. Todd said...

The objection I get more often, which I don't see addressed here is, "Don't be naive. That will never work. Dream on." Its especially deflating when you're newer to the business than the other.

James R. Todd said...

How do you handle the objection, "Don't be naive. Dream on"? Especially when you're newer to the field than the naysayer?

Anita said...

I think the best way would be to counter with the fact that dreams turned into reality (think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc.) have been very successful, and there is a first time for everything. Use the fact that you've got a unique opportunity to be "first"...or get a jump on the competition. That doing things the same old way won't make you more competitive. Ask, "why not us?" As long as you can back it up with facts supporting your ideas, how is that naive?