4 Key Questions to Boost Team Buy-in

The last words author Michael Pollan said to me as I dropped him off at the hotel in Santa Cruz late that evening were “I still have no idea how you got me to do this”.

I laughed, said goodnight and pinched myself. This fact that this complement came from a multi-award winning master persuader did not go unnoticed. While my writing skills may never approach Pollan’s inimitable caliber, it abruptly occurred to me in that moment; when it comes to effective persuasion, there’s more to the conversation than meets the eye.

Celebrities aside, we have our share of persuading to do. Whether we’re coordinating a big fundraising event like I was, or managing a team of people in the workplace, the need to establish buy-in where none previously exists is key.

This is where the art of persuasion comes in. When your team-members, colleagues, or even family members aren’t cooperating the way you expect them to, rather than focusing on their shortcomings, do you take the time to examine your own persuasion style?

Typically when people aren’t cooperating, we start to make assumptions before we have all the facts. And let’s be honest, the assumptions are usually about the other person. We can thank our neurobiology, specifically a condition known as the attribution bias, for this natural inclination. The good news is that as leaders, we can fairly easily work around it.

Here’s how; the next time you interact with an employee or team-member you’re having trouble motivating or winning buy-in from, first pay attention you how you’re showing up, then think about how that strategy might be tweaked to better serve you.

For psychology geeks

True motivation doesn’t come from a leader, or even from a paycheck, as numerous studies and surveys confirm. According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely (TED Talk: What makes us feel good about our work?) we have an overly simplistic view of why people work. Ariely’s finding show that employees are driven by the meaningfulness of the work, by others’ acknowledgement, most surprisingly and by the amount of effort we’ve put in; the harder projects are more rewarding.

Setting the Stage for Change

When you’re dealing with a behavior pattern that despite your best efforts, seems destined to repeat itself ad infinitum, try the following approach to leverage your powers of persuasion to facilitate a fresh result.

First, try starting the situation from a neutral place the next time around, even if that means taking a step backwards from a previously heated situation and sharing your intention to want to find a more collaborative resolution. The idea here is work together to identify your common goal, so you have a leverage point to work from. Say for example, every time you ask your project manager to create and follow an agenda for the meeting, it either doesn’t happen, or it’s poorly done. You both want to keep the project on track, and you’re extremely frustrated by his lack of cooperation.

By focusing the conversation on shared interest, then addressing your concern about the behavior as it effects your mutual goals, you reframe the conversation from a power struggle to a means to resolution, whatever that turns out to be.

Which leads me to my next point, listen to the response. This is your chance to gain important information about what matters to the people you’re leading or working with. Is it timeliness, quality, creativity or something else that is holding them back? The more you know about what makes your colleagues tick, the easier it will be to effectively communicate with them.

Next consider asking the following 4 questions to assess the other person’s commitment to the project, assignment or expectation, to further uncover whether there are underlying reasons they’re not cooperating.

  1. Do they believe in value of the project?
  2. Are they able to apply their specific talents or skillset to this project?
  3. If they’re part of a team, are they feeling connected with their teammates?
  4. Are they getting the feedback they need?

Regardless of your relationship, in order to truly persuade someone to step up, you need to understand whether you’re approaching them with the things that really matter. To buy into a project people need to connect with a sense of purpose, challenge, accountability and recognition.

While author Michael Pollan wasn’t motivated by a hefty stipend for spending the day in Santa Cruz, his passion for sustainability and interest in supporting projects that embrace that cause was a benefit he could buy into.

Ultimately when you’re able to connect your people to a sense of purpose, recognition, challenge and accountability in ways that matter to them, your powers of persuasion are truly at work.   Incentives have their place of course, but those typical go-to solutions only take us so far. Just ask me, and Michael!

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