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How to Get Your Colleagues On Board with Your Idea

Have you ever tried, time and again, to get your colleagues on board with an idea — and failed? Maybe you want your team to experiment with a new workflow, but they’re committed to an outdated system and don’t agree with your suggestion. Maybe you pitch an idea for how you should present to a client, but no one will go along with it.

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. 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.

Unfortunately, in the workplace, this approach isn’t always enough and can even be counterproductive. When others seem to be resisting your ideas, there is usually a deeper belief or concern informing their view — one that they aren’t saying out loud. If you continue to throw facts and figures at them in hopes of changing their minds, you are unlikely to understand what’s really driving their resistance. This not only makes it difficult to address their concerns, but also cuts you off from new perspectives that might help you learn and improve your thinking.

In this situation, you will see better results if you make it a goal to understand the other person’s reasoning, instead of trying to explain your own. The key is to ask the right questions.

Here are four common roadblocks you might face when trying to get someone to change their mind, to agree with you, or to act on your idea — along with surprisingly powerful questions that can transform these barriers into breakthroughs. Each strategy may feel counterintuitive at first, but with practice, you will grow more confident and gain unexpected insights.

Roadblock #1: When someone resists your idea or view but doesn’t tell you why.

Have you ever found yourself encountering quiet resistance? Maybe you’re collaborating with with a coworker who doesn’t outright dispute your recommendations but also doesn’t act on them. Or maybe you pitch what you think is a great idea for a product improvement to your manager, but there’s no uptake. In these moments, it’s natural to respond by pushing harder — to explain your concept again with more supporting data and encouragement. But there is a better way. 

How to overcome it:

Instead of pushing back, request the other person’s authentic reaction to what you’re saying. This could sound as simple as:

  • How is this idea landing with you, truly?
  • What are your reactions to what I’m proposing?

You can go even further by explicitly requesting reactions that challenge your own reasoning:

  • What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of this idea?
  • What potential downsides am I overlooking? 

We tend to assume that if people have a concern about something we’re pushing for, they will tell us. But just because someone isn’t explicitly disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they agree. Requesting their reactions can vastly increase the odds that you’ll uncover whatever barriers are stopping them from taking the action you want. You might even discover some holes in your own thinking. And by pausing to request someone’s reaction, you also demonstrate that you care about what they think and feel, not just what they will do.

Roadblock #2: When you believe the other person is the problem (as opposed to your idea).

We’ve all had an experience of someone turning down our idea or solution to a problem — one that is so clearly correct in our minds. In this situation, you may instinctively think: “What is wrong with this person”; “Why would they push back on a new workflow idea that would benefit us both?”; “Why would they so quickly reject a proposal I spent months preparing, totally ignoring all of the research supporting it?”

How to overcome it:

Your instinct may be to respond by pointing out the flaws in the other person’s logic. Instead, try to see what they see. Ask questions that allow you to uncover the deeper beliefs, interests, and experiences that are informing their position, such as:

  • Tell me more about your concerns…
  • What are some examples of the risks you’re worried about?
  • Can you share a story about when you’ve seen things like this go wrong in the past?

You’ll often find that underneath someone’s words is a vast well of information and experiences leading them to react the way they are. Based on their answers, you may uncover why their point of view makes perfect sense to them.

For instance, you may learn that when your colleagues changed their workflow in the past, it ended up complicating data sharing for the whole team. Or you may learn that your client knows about factors on the frontline that your proposal fails to consider. Once you see what they are seeing, you can update your own views or present a more tailored argument. At the very least, you can partner with them to address their concerns.

Roadblock #3: When the conversation is too tense to be productive.

Picture this: You’re a marketing consultant, and you and your colleague are discussing how to help your client promote their product on social media. You come up with an idea you both like, and now you’re discussing how to pitch it. This could be your first big win as a team, and you’re both excited. But within minutes, the conversation starts to feel tense. Based on your previous discussions with the client, you believe they would prefer an informal conversation. Your colleague, on the other hand, believes that a more formal presentation, with clear and structured data, is the best way to make your pitch.

As the conversation goes on, you feel your colleague is not listening — they’re just waiting for their turn to talk. They keep repeating the same points and aren’t acknowledging the points you’re making. You also notice that you’re doing the same to them.

How to overcome it:

In situations like these, it helps to pause and check your comprehension of what the other person is saying. Instead of returning the next volley, summarize and “tell back” to them what you think you heard them say. Then check if you’re understanding them correctly:

  • Before we go on, let me just check…I hear you saying that you believe ____  for ____ reason. Is that right?
  • It sounds like your biggest concern is _____. Am I understanding that correctly?
  • I’m gathering that you think the best way forward is _____ because _____. How close is that to what you’re thinking?

This simple strategy is powerful because it interrupts the point-counterpoint dynamic and slows things down. It allows you to ensure that you actually understand the point against which you are arguing. Often, you’ll discover that you were mishearing or misunderstanding something important. This critical piece of information can lead to the breakthrough you both need.

More importantly, you’re shifting the dynamic of the conversation from adversarial to collaborative. You’re demonstrating how much you care about getting on the same page. From there, you have a better chance of finding common ground.

Roadblock #4: When their response to your idea puts you in a bind.

Sometimes another person’s “no” leaves you between a rock and a hard place. Maybe someone rejects your suggestion about ways to save costs on a project but doesn’t offer an alternative, even though your budget proposal is due the next day. Or perhaps you’re expected to tackle a challenging project that requires extra resources, even though your request for those resources was declined.

In these situations, you will inevitably feel stuck or unsure of what to do next. With no better option on the table, you may be tempted to present another evidence-backed argument to bring down the opposition. But this approach keeps you stuck arguing between option A or B, rather than working with the other side to come up with options C, D, and E.

How to overcome it:

This is when it pays to invite input from the other person, who may be able to offer a perspective you haven’t considered. Start by disclosing your dilemma. Share the problem that their disagreement leaves you to face, then pose a question that invites them to troubleshoot it with you, such as:

  • If we don’t do what I’m suggesting — or find some better alternative — I worry that we’ll run out of time and resources. How would you approach this dilemma?
  • Might there be other ways of looking at this beyond what I’m considering?
  • If you were in my shoes, how might you navigate through this challenge?

It can feel vulnerable to admit that you aren’t sure what to do and ask for help, but there’s real power in doing so. Not only will you help the other person have more empathy for what you’re grappling with, but you’ll also likely come up with something even better than your original idea.

In all these cases, the path to breakthrough comes from tapping into the insights of the people you’re collaborating with. We are all surrounded by collective intelligence, but this wisdom too often stays hidden from us if we don’t ask for it. Of course, once you ask, be prepared to listen deeply to their answers and learn from what you hear.

If you can add these skills to your toolbelt, you’ll find that many of your toughest moments may just be stops on the road to new breakthroughs.

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