Like me, I am sure you have been in a meeting presenting your ideas and seeking agreement to proceed. Gaining buy-in is a key job requirement of middle to senior-level people.
If people say no, I am sure you have plenty of ideas about what to do next ― especially if you have been reading my work for a while. But, what do you do if they say yes?
Most people will gratefully accept that little word and swing into implementation mode, or patiently wait for them to do what they have just agreed to do. Put another way, they will take a gamble that yes meant yes and not no or maybe. I know that you know yes often doesn’t mean yes.
Is that what you do? Initially, the relief of gaining agreement hides the gamble. Suspicions that they are not quite with you can be squashed out by the fear of losing agreement. Trying to check that they really mean yes is somehow seen as being foolhardy. Worry about that another day, if ever ― just savour the taste of yes.
It reminds me of one piece of naïve advice given to me in my selling days. “Once they say yes, shut up and get out of there with the sale”. I didn’t take that advice then and consider it to be very dangerous advice if you are looking for quality long-term relationships and sustained influence.
When out there with a stakeholder, gambling that it is a genuine yes is dangerous too. Their yes could mean…
- “Yes, I love the idea and can’t wait to get started”.
- “Yes, and I need some time to think it through”.
- “Yes, I don’t want to do it, but you’re not taking no for an answer”.
- “Yes, and I will let you think that so I can attend to more important matters”.
- “Yes, because I need time to gather the evidence for my no”.
Apart from the first one, all of the others lead to trouble downstream ― that’s your gamble.
Loading the Dice
Much depends on the situation, the individual, and the nature of your relationship with them. Here are some ideas for you to consider…
- Ask them what they have said yes to.
- Ask them why they are agreeing. Probe beyond simple responses.
- Ask them to tell you what they intend to do next — now they have agreed.
- Consider what evidence you will notice if they have really agreed with you.
- Ask them to take specific actions which will demonstrate their agreement.
- Consider what evidence you will notice if they really mean no.
- Get other people to test their commitment.
The point here is to increase your certainty at the time they say yes and prove yes as quickly as possible. At the very least, recognise the gamble you are taking and live with your decision or do something different.