How to Engage Someone

 

IF YOU'RE RELYING on persuasion tactics in order to get someone in your organization to support your idea, you’re not only limiting yourself, you're potentially setting yourself up for failure in the long-term. Instead, start engaging them. As an important part of the Ground Game, engaging has two goals:

  • Improve your idea, so that it’s viable

You achieve these goals through a series of interactions over time, in which you share your ideas and the other person gives feedback. The result is much more powerful and sustainable than persuasion, because the other person starts to participate in a solution.

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The engage approach has four core elements:

 

The four core elements are somewhat chronological (i.e. you can’t get feedback without sharing your idea first), but they are very much interrelated, so one element might loop back to another. You should see this as a fluid process.

 

When starting an engage conversation with each person, ask for fifteen minutes of their time, (1) explaining that you want to share an idea you have and get their feedback. Nothing more. Most people are curious to hear new ideas and won’t say “no” to such a conversation. Once it is clear to them that you are genuinely sharing an idea in order to get feedback (rather than trying to persuade) they will be much more open and engaged.

How many engage conversations do you need to have with each person?

It’s great to have engage conversations with a group as well, but it is very important to combine them with one-to-one conversations.

SHARE YOUR IDEA

Remember, your goal is NOT to persuade the other person—this is very important. Your goal at this stage is to create awareness.

Here’s a simple and powerful structure for presenting your idea (borrowed from Barbara Minto (2)):

1

Describe the situation at your organization today (one sentence). This should be an objective statement that anyone in your organization can agree on.

2

Describe the challenge with the situation today (one sentence). This should be a risk or crisis in the organization that your colleague can agree on and something that neither one of you are happy about. 

3

Present your idea (one sentence). This should a be new solution to the challenge and it should be be clear and easy to understand.

4

Recommend 3-4 key actions to make your idea succeed (one sentence each). These actions should be concrete.

 

 

Learn about framing your idea

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Share your idea very early in the engagement process (although it doesn’t have to be the very first thing you do) and preferably more than once with each person in order to get feedback multiple times.

GET FEEDBACK

Now that you have shared your idea, you have two goals: 

  1. Assess and improve the viability of your idea 

  2. Create interest 

 

Asking for feedback accomplishes both goals. Feedback gives you subjective information—someone’s opinion—about the quality of your idea and it’s popularity. These are two different things. Someone might really like your idea—making it popular—but that doesn’t necessarily mean the idea is good or in the best interest of the organization. Alternatively, your idea might be exactly what the organization needs, but not very popular. Having both a good idea and a popular idea are what make it viable.

 

In addition, by asking the other person for their feedback, you are showing respect, which creates interest in the solution (moving up the pyramid from awareness). The more you show that you are listening to their feedback, the more interested they will be.

 

 

1

Ask for their spontaneous reaction to your idea. Explain that you would very much appreciate any feedback—positive and/or constructive criticism.

4

Show that you are listening

  • Keep eye contact

  • Summarize what the other person has said

  • Ask follow-up questions (e.g. ask for clarification, ask for examples)

  • Thank them for the feedback

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Ask for feedback every time you share your idea

2

Push for constructive criticism. It is absolutely essential that you find out about problems with your idea or potential resistance early on. The sooner that you can tweak your idea and identify the resistance, the better. * Some people need time (30 seconds - 24 hours) to digest your idea before they can can give feedback. It’s best to give them the space if you want quality feedback, but be sure to schedule the follow-up conversation.

 

3

Take in the feedback (even if it hurts). Embrace any negativity or criticism they give, because it will either give you valuable insights that will save you a lot of time down the road or toughen you up for other resistance. This doesn’t mean you have to do anything with the feedback. You just have to listen and consider the feedback. However, must be open to the fact that your initial idea may require some tweaking, or even be replaced with a better solution.

How to help someone give you critical feedback

Taking critical feedback

BUILD A SHARED UNDERSTANDING

More often than not, when people are giving feedback—which is their subjective opinion—they will also share objective information in the form of facts, names, and history. This information is often referred to as institutional knowledge.

 

This objective information is extraordinarily valuable in assessing the viability of your idea and how to develop it further. Wouldn’t you like to know if someone else was doing a similar project which might be competing with yours for resources?

 

Put on your investigative reporter hat and collect as much information as possible. (3) 

 

 

1

Ask about institutional knowledge that you might not be aware of

  • Facts – financial information, strategic information, structural information (e.g. formal and informal communication processes, formal and informal decision-making processes), other existing projects or ideas for projects, information about the external environment 

  • Names – formal and informal key stakeholders whom you haven’t thought about

  • History – things that have happened in the organization’s past and may impact the present and future ​

2

Ask for any information they have about similar ideas/projects in the past

  • What’s been done/attempted before?

  • What were the circumstances?

  • Who was involved?

  • What was the outcome and why?

  • What was done well? What could have been done differently?

  • How might past outcomes impact people’s response/perception of your idea?

3

Share additional background information that you have

  • Facts, figures

  • People involved

  • Your previous experience in relation to your idea or the context of your idea

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This should happen throughout the whole engagement process. In some cases, you should talk to people to gather information before presenting your idea and getting feedback.

 It can be difficult to tell the difference between the person’s opinion and factual information because the person will often interweave the two when giving feedback, but that doesn’t matter at this stage—you can always sort that out after the conversation. 

 

MAKE AN "ASK" AND FOLLOW UP

If you have shared your idea, asked the person for feedback and objective information, and demonstrated that you are respectfully listening, you will have created a positive and engaged attitude. However, never let the conversation end there. That would be like hitting a golf ball all the way to the green, but then walking away without hitting it into the hole.

 

When people hear a good idea—especially an idea that is in their own interest—they want to help. Many people will take the initiative and offer advice. Others are more cautious (out of politeness or uncertainty). Either way, in order to fully achieve your engagement goal (improve the viability of your idea and move the person up the pyramid of ownership), you need to build momentum by turning talk into action—any kind of action.

The most powerful way to do this is to make a small “Ask.” During an engage conversation, the Ask can be small: something that requires little effort from the person (even if it gives you a lot of value). Examples of small Asks:

 

1

Ask them to do something 

  • Send you data or resource material

  • Look at your data or resource material

2

Ask for advice

  • Who else should you speak with in order to get information and/or feedback? 

    • Can they put you into contact with this person?

  • How could your idea be improved in terms of quality and popularity?

3

Ask for more information

  • What data you need in order to build a good business case. 

    • Where you can get this information? 

    • Can they provide it?

  • Insights about what kind of resistance might there be to the idea? Why? From Whom?

Following up on an Ask ensures momentum and signals professionalism, both of which move the person up the pyramid of ownership. You can follow up through an e-mail, telephone call, or meeting. An effective follow-up conversation has three steps:

1

Summarize the feedback and information they shared in the previous conversation. This shows them that you took it in and have been thinking about it. 

 

2

Explain what actions you have taken based on their feedback and/or information (e.g. adjusted your idea, contacted someone, gathered more information, etc.). This shows that you respect their opinion and that you a person of action (not just a “person with ideas”).

 

3

Review what actions they have taken since the previous conversation. If they have not completed what they had agreed to do, found out why and set a new target to complete it as soon as possible.

4

Ask follow-up questions that you have been thinking about since the previous conversations. You could ask for clarification or for additional information.

 

5

Ask for feedback on the new and improved idea

Why making an Ask 

and following up are so easy

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You should make an Ask at the end of every engage conversation, and follow up on every Ask

 
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CONCLUSION

Over time, as the person sees that you are taking in their feedback, they feel respected, and are therefore more willing to invest time and energy. With each ask and follow-up, the person sees that their input has made an impact. They have now moved to the highest level of engagement: participating.
 
With many stakeholders, it is enough to stop here and just keep them informed about how the idea is developing, turning into a business case, and hopefully a project. However, with key stakeholders, it is crucial to continue the momentum up the pyramid of ownership into the Anchor phase.

 

reflection questions

  • What is your process for engaging people?

  • Is it intentional (planned and with a purpose) or more sub-conscious?​

  • What do you do particularly well when engaging people?

  • What could you do differently?

  • Do you know anyone who is particularly good at engaging people?

  • What do they do that makes them so successful?

challenge yourself

In order to improve the way in which you  engage people, consider the following:

  • Frame the conversation differently by explaining that you’d like their feedback on an idea you have

  • Link your idea more to the organization’s mission and what’s important for the other person

  • Be more open to feedback (and show it)

  • Dare to make an Ask

  • Follow up and show that you have taken in their feedback and information

 

References

  1. Liu, W., Aaker, J., & John Deighton – “The Happiness of Giving: The Time‐Ask Effect,” Journal of Consumer Research 

  2. Barbara Minto – The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking

  3. Kerry Patterson et al. – Crucial Conversations

  4. Freedman, J. & Fraser, S. – “Compliance without Pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

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