Don’t tell me what to do

The Situation

You are charged with promoting a change or sponsoring a project.  Someone’s support is critical to your next step.  They are in your way and you have to persuade them.

So far, the everyday life of a change leader or project manager.

But what if that person is one of those controlling types who will not accept any ideas that are not their own?

“Don’t tell me what to do”

The Psychology

We can all be like this at times, can’t we?  The problem is that for some people, this is their default behaviour.  Happily, they are relatively few and far between.

They tend to have strong, often dominant, personalities.  Sometimes this can become domineering – even bullying.  They also need to feel in control.

In my experience, this stems from a fear of uncertainty and risk. When this is combined with the all-together too common absolute faith in their own abilities, we see an intolerance of other people’s ideas and also a tendency to look for someone else to blame when things go wrong.

It may be a power thing, it may be a control thing, or it may be a trust thing.

The Response

Step 1
First and foremost, avoid advocating you proposals aggressively.  This will cause an instant reaction and set you backwards.

At best, they won’t like it: at worst, if they do end up agreeing with you, they will also be mentally putting you in the firing line for when the slightest problem emerges.  If anything goes wrong, it won’t be their fault.

“Not my idea – in fact I said it was a wrong-un”

Step 2
Instead, provide facts and data.  Let them draw their own conclusions.

Step 3
Where you need to go further, leading them in the right direction, offer structured, logical arguments.  Allow enough time for them to come to their own decision.

Step 4
Make sure you check every fact and every logical conclusion because you must get things right. The smallest errors can undermine your credibility with them.

Step 5
Figure out what their fears are. Without labelling them as fears, find ways to address them with pragmatic actions. Use terms like “risk management” and “prudence” rather than “fear” or “concern”.  You don’t want to hint at anything they may interpret as weakness.

The Key

Above all, be patient.

  • This type of behaviour often goes with poor listening and an overbearing manner.
  • This behaviour does not like to feel rushed
  • This behaviour needs time to draw its own conclusions

The “so what?”

Get to know the people you need to influence, figure out their behaviours, treat them with respect, adapt your style to theirs, tread carefully.

This post is being published simultaneously on Handling Resistance.  This is the website of my new book, The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, due for publication in autumn 2010.

If you like this post and some of the others I’ve put onto Shift Happens! around the subject of resistance, then please do subscribe to the feed at Handling Resistance.  This is where topics like this will appear in future.

Recent topics about handling resistance:

  1. Why Handling Resistance is like Sharing Pie
  2. Why is Change so Scary?
  3. Organisational Change: Creating the will to change
  4. Diving into Change
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