You’re pitching that shiny new idea to your boss or a client. Maybe you're sure they'll like it, or maybe you know it'll be a hard sell.
And then comes that first hint of an objection: a skeptical or dismissive remark, possibly phrased as a question. You can see the whole plan collapsing.
Take a breath, and then do this.
When someone objects to an idea you've proposed—even if you haven't even finished presenting it—don’t rush to respond. If you’re standing, walk slowly to the other side of the room. If sitting, scribble in your notepad or take a sip of water. Exhale. These valuable seconds may seem short, but they can help you reduce your stress and defensiveness as you collect yourself.
What's more, your pause might give the skeptic time to jump in with explanations or advice, taking the heat off you temporarily before re-entering the fray. That’s what happened to Ed Collevecchio, owner of Creative Associates, when a decision-maker objected to the voiceover on a video his firm was developing for the client.
"She said the ‘s' sounds were too harsh," Collevecchio recounts. "My first inclination was to defend the audio, but instead I paused to gather my thoughts. And she broke the silence by recommending we try a little audio compression."
Taking a short pause and waiting to hear more keeps the focus on the person who's raised an objection, adding subtle pressure for them to explain their reasoning. And that can open up a more productive dialogue.
"Her suggestion let me know she understood sound dynamics," Collevecchio says, "so I asked about her background. Turns out we’re both musicians, which led to a discussion of mutual interests. By pausing rather than reacting quickly, the problem was solved, and my connection with the client was strengthened."
While pausing, try converting the objection into a question in your mind. For example, if the decision-maker says, "I’m not crazy about the photographs you’ve selected for this project," hear her asking, "Will you help me understand why these photos will connect with our audience?" Or if the objection is, "This idea isn’t consistent with our goals," instead, hear him asking, "Can you help me connect your idea with our goals?"
Converting what sounds like an outright rejection into a request for more information helps soften the sharp edges so you can respond as a helpful adviser, rather than just defensively.
You don’t have to agree with the skeptical or dismissive remark itself, but it’s smart to recognize the concern behind it as valid. Empathize. Say something like, "I understand why you might feel that way," or "I see how that might be something you're concerned about."
Lorrie Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, told me she uses this technique frequently. "Agreeing with concerns shows you’re listening, and that you see the decision-maker’s perspective," she says. "It changes communications from combative to collaborative and opens doors for deeper dialogue."
If somebody you're trying to win over to your idea expresses doubt, chances are they need more information to see your side of things. That's a pretty good sign that it goes both ways, though. So ask for help understanding their worries: "Could you tell me more about the problems you see with the photography?" or, "When you say your goals aren’t being met here, can you explain for me where you think it moves away from your needs?"
Cathy Austin, owner of Loop9 Marketing, finds asking questions especially effective when the objection comes as a "change that to this" directive. "By asking the client exactly what they want to convey to the audience with the change, I’ll typically receive more specific feedback," she says. "Then I reply with something like, ‘Okay, now that I see what you’re trying to accomplish, let us take another look so we can propose the best solution.’"
When dealing with a client who obviously isn’t pleased but sits quietly, stewing in their displeasure, Austin’s first question is this: "Will you tell me what you’re thinking?"
That usually opens the door for discussion. "We’ll eventually get to the real issue, and then I’ll probe to see where the client feels we missed the mark," she says.
If you have a ready response to an objection, calmly state your case. Just be sure your reply includes the reason behind it, especially if that wasn't clear yet by the time someone objected. Use the word "because": "I believe this approach will resonate with our audience because . . ." or, "This idea is worth a large portion of the budget because . . ." Then be as specific as you can, and make sure your rationale is geared to the skeptic's needs and concerns.
When Lorrie Ross decided to change her consulting firm’s name to Web Marketing Therapy, several longtime clients and peers objected, telling her the word "therapy" had too much of a stigma because of its association with mental and psychological disorders.
"I told them I recognized this possible issue, but that we were attracted to the new name because therapy also means restoring health and soundness," she says. "And the mission of our business is to get web marketing on a healthy path." Far from disregarding those concerns, her response showed how they were the very basis for her alternative point of view.
Of course, if you don't have an honest answer right away, don’t bluff. Many ideas die sudden deaths because their creators are unwilling to admit mistakes or shortcomings. Rather than fake a response, let the decision-maker know you appreciate their concerns, and promise to think it through and get back at a specific time and date with alternatives. That downtime can help revive an idea under fire rather than see it to an untimely end.
Slideshow Credits: 02 / Photo: Flickr user; 03 / Photo: Flickr user Desi; 04 / Photo: Flickr user Sarah Reid; 05 / Photo: Flickr user Daniel Duende Carvalho; 06 / Photo: Flickr user Anna Levinzon;