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When Your Idea Falls Flat

Why Do Great Ideas Get Ignored?

Issue 168, July 11, 2024

How great are you at getting your ideas understood and accepted?  You’ve  been mulling over how to solve a problem for a couple of weeks now. You’ve reviewed the facts, recognized the challenges and thought long and hard about how to ensure impressive results. It has been a struggle given so many distractions with the surface noise of meetings, emails and intermittent mental exhaustion. But yesterday you woke up with the solution completely framed out in your mind. You are excited; you check your calendar and see that there is a management meeting today where you can share your ideas. As you get ready for work you make some notes that you want to share. The meeting comes and you take your moment. But all you get in return is a room full of dead stares. You deflate like a burst balloon.

What happened?

Mind Shift

We all have encountered situations at work when someone else is super enthusiastic about a new idea and/or solution but fails to communicate its value and worth in ways that others can understand and align with. Our natural bias is that others think the same way we do and will, without question, jump on board with our innovation, solution, idea, new product or service.

This mindset is particularly rampant in tech startups and many would say in younger employees as well, who are full of energy but lack the experience of human dynamics in a work setting.

Our experience has been that when we try to understand an entrepreneur explaining a novel or new tech solution, we are bewildered.  Often when we find ourselves in a diverse group of people, we don’t take the time to recognize that those around us don’t think like we do, have had very different experiences, and may not have the same interests. As a result, we misfire in our excitement.

Typically, those who communicate a solution, idea or the like have thought a lot about it. They have invested in its value and function, and bring their own knowledge, values, beliefs and experience in how they communicate with others. But as we said, that’s not enough to guarantee that everyone in the room gets it.

The Pin Drops and You Heard It Loud and Clear

Here’s a real-life case study.  A digital B2B media brand caters to top-level supply chain executives. The readers are a mix of veteran professionals and an emerging audience of younger experts who are tech-savvy and oriented toward complex, holistic systems to trace inventory and track products. A new Gen Z social media coordinator for the media brand is hellbent on using social to promote and attract new readers to the brand. His strategy is to run self-recorded videos by the writers on TikTok explaining why they wrote their business reports. One self-promotional writer jumped at the chance and produced a video of her wearing a Raiders T-shirt shopping at Sam’s with her voiceover correlating the in-store experience to supply chain challenges.

The social media coordinator proudly shared the video with the media brand’s executive team, and you could hear a pin drop in the room. How, the editor-in-chief asked, could this video represent a well-respected business brand for C-level executives — leaders who turn to the brand for hardcore guidance on the strategy and operations of the supply chain? Undaunted, the Gen Zer reported that in one day the video got over 700 views. Still silence and resistance in the room.

How to Get Your Voice Heard

Getting buy-in from colleagues is no easy task. Anyone will hit a wall introducing new ideas without any context or empathy among the “listeners.” And invariably, new ideas and solutions are presented in a vacuum without an open exchange of feedback and critical thinking that might help shape the innovation and perfect it.

By nature, we resist criticism, and we get defensive. In our case study, generational differences also create barriers to acceptance — even listening. The Harvard Business Review article, “How to Get Your Colleagues on Board with Your Idea,” suggests that moving ideas from introduction to acceptance is especially difficult for those who are in their early careers. “In the early stages of your career, getting people to not only listen to but to agree to or to act on your ideas or views can be challenging. It’s often a time when you have the least amount of influence and are still building your reputation.” It is also a time when unbridled energy to “change the world” is strong and inexperience in managing human dynamics remains a challenge.

“In moments like these — when you want to persuade someone to see (or do) things your way — you may default to the skills you were taught or socialized to exhibit making a rational argument supported by data, persisting in the face of a challenge, and projecting confidence,” HBR adds.

Since bad habits can start early and stay stuck for a career, it’s important to keep a mental checklist of when communication derails. Here are a few trigger questions to keep in mind when introducing or promoting new ideas.

  • Are you telling or selling?
  • Are you sharing or telling?
  • Are you conducting a monologue or a dialogue?
  • Are you providing context or assumptions?
  • Are you explaining what it means and why it matters?
  • Are you open to change?

Barriers Free

Over the years we have continued to beat the drum for the recognition of effective communications, knowing the audience, and leveraging active listening while raising awareness about how to accept and give criticism. We have also tackled the theoretical basis of communication skills and how to interact with others. Even asking if you are being heard.

Your ideas, solutions and really anything you feel is important will never result in more than a pin drop if you don’t take the time to master communications and how to gain buy-in and support.

The HBR article identifies roadblocks that often prevent good ideas from moving forward.  Based on observations with our clients and students, we have amplified the list, identifying how to overcome obstacles that create barriers to success.

  •  When someone/many resist your idea or view but doesn’t tell you why.
    Quiet resistance can be deadly. It’s virtually impossible to maintain your positive energy when there is no reaction. In these cases, we tend to raise our conversation to a crescendo and push harder, gamely trying to convince everyone how great our idea is. We try alternate ways, use examples and change the terms we are using, all for naught. We have failed to win them over and really don’t know why. Blame may be internalized, but most often defensiveness takes hold and blame is placed on someone else or the group. Are they really all that stupid or that disengaged?
  • How to overcome it.
    Enter hubris. Sincerely ask the team for their authentic reaction. Encourage constructive challenges to the idea. Turn the presentation into a collaboration. Asking for confirmation of understanding can open the door to engagement and active dialogue. Asking questions can also get those in the room to engage. But be mindful and open to criticism — and if it comes, recognize it and reconfirm it. If you demonstrate you are “listening,” the audience will more likely tune in with their own active listening skills.
  • Conscious and unconscious bias.
    Assuming others think just like you do is a non-starter. It takes humility to admit that you are not the smartest person in the room. And it requires open-mindedness to be an innovator in collaboration with someone who has different ideas and different ways of processing information. This is when the wisdom of crowds makes a difference in reaching consensus. Exploring our inherent biases is critical to mastering communications. Learning how to ask the right questions is also an imperative. And let’s take a moment to emphasize the criticality of being vulnerable.
  • How to overcome it
    Rise above your fixed mindset and invite contributions. Practice mindfulness and objective listening to challenge your ideas. Take a pause to recognize that many people are uncomfortable with change; they don’t want the boat to rock. Knowing how they define themselves and value their contributions establishes a level playing field. Knowing how to navigate the transitioning of their own self-definitions and thought processes can help their ideas and solutions become accepted and supported. It can be a Herculean task for innovators to take a pause, but in the spirit of getting an idea to its rightful home, it takes a village.
  • Making it personal.
    When presenting an idea meets resistance, there is a knee-jerk reaction to blame the person resisting instead of considering the efficacy of the idea. Making someone else wrong puts the onus in the wrong place. It also sets up an adversarial situation that can go down the proverbial rabbit hole really quickly. Take a moment of reflection, assess how you are communicating and clarify what you said and how you said it. Perhaps you aren’t to blame but we all bear responsibility.
  • How to overcome it.
    No cliché, walk in their shoes. Although it’s hard, try to understand their perspective. Engage in a conversation to discuss why they feel differently. Encourage them to be candid and constructive by opening up and explaining their position.
  • Highly wired tension.
    We rarely agree to disagree. When we work closely with a team, we can usually anticipate how someone else is going to react – especially individuals who think their contributions are better than everyone else’s.  Or when egos get in the way and any discussion becomes a matter of he said/he said. Check your ego at the door and recognize the role you play in the group dynamics.
  • How to overcome it.
    This situation calls for a reality check. When confronted by an uncomfortable level of tension, pull back and repeat the objection by how you understand what the other person said. Summarizing their position based on “as I understand you,” objectifies the conversation and discusses the idea impartially.
  • Can you hear me?
    How often have we been in a situation when no one is hearing what we are saying. Active listening is different from passive listening. It requires critical thinking and analysis of what we are listening to. Simply stated, it requires hearing.
  • How to overcome it.
    There’s a pretty simple way to break down this barrier.  Ask the listener if they hear you and understand what you are saying. It needs mutual clarification and explanation.
  • An unequivocal no.
    No matter how great your idea is, someone else in the hierarchy has the veto power. It’s hard not to take it as a personal loss. All that energy needs to get rechanneled into some other idea, your second-best idea, or bleakly, no idea at all. For an independent thinker, “no” is a nightmare. It’s hard to avoid the value judgment that the individual imposing the “no” is not seeing the total picture.
  • How to overcome it.
    Not to be a bummer, but the absolute power of “no” is a conversation-ender.  Most impassioned arguments to get the authority figure to change her or his mind are pretty much wasted effort. The best you can do, if you want to go to the mat, is to suggest keeping the door open for the future.  No is a dramatic dagger to the heart of a young workforce. If you are in a position to mentor them, good pragmatic advice is to advise them to pick their battle. “No” is what spawns so many startups and entrepreneurial businesses out of unbridled (and often untested) certainty that the solution at hand is right for its time … somewhere else.

Meeting of the Minds

What we have offered could be considered as a master class in learning how to get your ideas, innovations, solutions and the like accepted and supported by others. Explore our past newsletters and you will see a pattern of how to bring the tools, advice and suggestions together into actionable solutions.

Practice makes perfect, open your ears and eyes and learn more about the people you co-exist with. We aren’t as unique as we would all like to believe; but one thing we have in common is the baggage we bring to each and every presentation, discussion and interaction with others. Finding common ground isn’t always easy, but it’s a requirement in enlightened communications.

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