The great thing about Critics (as we are using the word here) is that you have a good relationship. The only problem is that you don’t agree with each other – but at least you can talk about it. And this lies at the heart of the optimum way of engaging with your Critics – leveraging the relationship to negotiate agreement. From this you can see that they are not against you, they just disagree with what you are trying to do.
Part of your preparation to engage could involve thinking about what sort of Critic they are. To help you work out your best approach, here are the main ones I’ve come across over the years…
Incidental Critics: These are the helpful people who are generally rooting for you; but on the particular Influencing Goal you are working on, they’ve got a problem with it. Believe me, this is great news. Why? Because the strength of your relationship will mean that you can quickly get to the bottom of the problem; find out what they think needs to change and then either change it or negotiate. You are dealing with your cards on the table and don’t have to guess and assume. Provided you ask, you’ll almost certainly get accurate insights which you can work on.
Black Hat Critics: Borrowing from Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, these are the people who are always looking at what is wrong with everything. They have an insatiable appetite for finding fault even in their closest friends – or especially with their closest friends because they care so much! The first step for engaging with a Black Hat Critic is adjusting your attitude towards them. They are okay, it’s just they may be a little different in their approaches. Genuinely appreciating the value they bring to you and the organisation should then be followed with the realisation that they are doing things that way because they care.
Accidental Critics: These are an organisational anomaly and potentially a wrinkle in the Stakeholder Influence Process. These are people who actually agree with your goal in concept, but in the context of the wider organisational agenda they disagree. To illustrate, they may think you have a great new product idea which will make the company successful, but they see it would take a million to develop and that million could be used on someone else’s product idea which could make even more profit. Alternatively, they could be agreeing, but now is not the right time because of other issues rolling about the organisation. As with all Critics, it is vital to get to the bottom of why they are opposed to you, then you can start working with facts.
So overall, you need to focus on getting a clear understanding of their objections while continuing to build the relationship. The emphasis you place on these two can be guided by where within the box they sit. The more towards the left of the box, the more you need to work on building the relationship.