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“We’ve tried that before”

Strop trying to persuade, and start engaging

Strop trying to persuade, and start engaging




2. Over Time

Engagement requires that the other person be allowed to approach the idea on their own terms, analyzing the possibilities, giving input, and increasingly becoming invested in the idea.

This requires time in order to work its magic. Rushing it tends to backfire. Multiple studies in neuropsychology (J. Kaplan, S. Gimbel, S. Harris) have recently found that a person can become less open to new ideas when presented with arguments contrary to their existing beliefs (especially when the topic relates to their identity).

In essence, the more you try to persuade someone, the more they “dig in” to their current position. Instead, if you allow the person to engage with your idea through open dialogue (not debate), at their own pace, they will be much more open to embracing the idea.

How do you do this? Several decades of research in social psychology (Deci & Ryan) has shown that the more freedom (“autonomy”) someone is given when taking in and digesting a new idea (vs. having it forced upon him/her) the more openly this person will embrace it. The next time you sit down with a colleague to share an idea, don’t try to persuade him, engage him. And don’t expect him to fall in love with the idea immediately. It’s not necessary. True engagement, whereby the person not only likes the idea, but is invested in its success, is a process that requires numerous interactions over time. To help you along the way, you should have three parallel sub-goals:

  1. Present your idea and action plan and openly ask for critical feedback so that you can continuously refine the idea. This generally happens very early in the engagement process and should be done more than once, if not several times.

  2. Share background information and ask for information in order to create a collective understanding of the current situation. This should happen throughout the whole engagement process. In some cases, it happens even before presenting your idea and getting feedback.

  3. Make small requests from the person in order to gradually build a momentum of active participation. This should happen as early as possible and can be as simple as asking for a follow-up meeting.

All three sub-goals are interrelated. So, by working towards each one separately, you reinforce the others. This approach is the backbone of successful social and political organizing, yet it is rarely—if ever—taught in school, and it translates extremely well to the business world.

Over time, as the person sees that you are taking in his input, he will feel respected, and will invest more time and energy. You will know he is fully engaged when he no longer talks about “your” idea, but “our” idea. Then you’re ready for the next phase (see article on Anchoring).

By focusing on the three sub-goals, you reduce the likelihood of the person feeling forced, and can be more confident in achieving a genuine and sustainable engagement.

However, do not be deceived by an immediate positive reaction. There is a big difference between someone liking your idea and actively working for its implementation. (Move)

The larger goal of engagement should not be forced (for the reasons I mentioned before) and is most successfully achieved if nurtured through various interactions over time. (Move)

What’s important to keep in mind is that all three goals are interdependent and interwoven throughout the engagement process. The reason to separate them is that they are all important sub-goals in and of themselves. This is where the dual processing mindset comes in handy: you should strive to achieve each goal independently for it’s own benefit, all the while knowing that progress in each goal contributes to progress in the other goals. The Jedi mind trick is to never pursue one goal solely for the purpose of achieving one of the other goals. Otherwise, you are being very calculating and manipulative and this will rub many people the wrong way, with lasting consequences.

The biggest mistake that people make in the engagement process is that they want the other person to be fully engaged and committed immediately. But that’s not how people work. Getting the person’s engagement is a longer process that needs time to occur if it’s going to be genuine and sustainable. Have patience!

*Sidebar 2*

Their embrace of the idea is more genuine because it is based on values, common goals, and independent choice (connect to Deci & Ryan). According to Self-Determination Theory, the more autonomy that people are given in making decisions, the more likely it is that they will embrace the decision whole-heartedly. (*Need to find the right place for this)


At the beginning of your conversation, you should always confirm how much time the person has, and stick to it. This show professionalism and prevents the risk of the person suddenly cutting you off when you’re in the middle of something.

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