One of my favourite phrases relating to Stakeholder Management is, “if you don’t have any opposition, you aren’t trying hard enough” (refer to Chapter 7 of Influential Leadership). While I am not suggesting that you should go looking for opposition, if you are ambitious, it is important that your plans and ideas are strong enough to provoke disagreement, or at least vigorous debate.
When disagreement arrives, it is often veiled in a cloak of assumptions and faulty communications. So, it is important when deciding how to respond to pause for a moment to check out what could be going on. Even if you cannot figure out the root cause, going through the process will highlight the gaps in your information.
If someone is opposing you, it could be due to one or more of the following…
- At a rational level, they think you are wrong.
- They have an even better idea (believe it or not, this is a possibility!).
- It interferes with their personal agenda.
- It hinders their professional agenda.
- It damages the agenda of someone who has power over them (a career stakeholder perhaps?).
- They are being swayed by others’ opinions (including bosses and friends).
- There is a technical reason why it won’t work (e.g. no budget, legal problems or even you lack the competence to pull it off!).
- They just don’t like you or have an old score to settle.
- At an emotional level it feels wrong.
This is just my list; what you can do is create your own list using this as a starting point? If you think about the person who is opposing you, what are the most likely reasons for their disagreement? It strikes me that this could be a moment for a probability tree, but that is probably taking it a little too far! When you are thinking about these, for each one consider…
- What evidence would there be if this were true?
- To what extent have you seen these clues?
- Could you be imagining it, or maybe filtering a different meaning or significance to the evidence?
- If this is true, how does successfully opposing you help the individual?
- Who else does their opposition help?
- What action can you take to increase your confidence in the probability this is true?
Once you have clarified the probabilities, you might want to just check in with a friend before you decide what action to take. Although we are only talking about diagnosis here, your choice of action will depend on your assessment. Action will vary dramatically if you think their opposition is caused by logical/rational objections or emotional/political motivations. In Advocates & Enemies, I talk about how to engage with Critics — this is a great bolt-on analysis, especially for the Incidental or Accidental Critics explored in Chapter Eight.
I’ll leave you now to start making decisions about what actions to take, with one final thought. If you sit there thinking that you are trying hard enough, but still don’t see any opposition — beware, you could be deluded instead!
Colin Gautrey is becoming the most sought-after expert in power and influence by ambitious and talented professionals who are serious about accelerating their careers and their results. But, Colin is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
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