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How to deal with naysayers

Background
In the previous article I looked at the processes of aligning innovation goals with the organisation’s strategy.  The rationale behind this is that if an organisation can incorporate innovation goals into the strategic plan, it will become something that is monitored and measured.  I planned to discuss innovation maturity in this article, but I decided to skip it for this week and address another issue that has been bugging me for a while now – people who always see the negative side of things, and who are not open to any new ideas or a change in the status quo, an innovator’s worst nightmare.  They are known by many names: disbelievers, pessimists, cynics, sceptics, people who see the glass half empty, and my favourite term for them: Naysayers, and every organisation has them.

Naysayers
I had a specific incident last week, that led to the inspiration for this topic.  It was with a project that has been on the radar for a while, quite an important one actually, that has been the responsibility for a specific individual, in project management terms: the project sponsor.  Since the inception of the project it was always someone else’s fault that things did not happen, or that there was no progress made.  Instead of solving the problems and issues that occurred, and making plans to overcome obstacles – and every project will have complications, guaranteed – this person always chose the option of shifting the responsibility to someone else.  And then it struck me, although this person is not explicitly saying “No”, through his actions he is a naysayer, because he does not believe that the project will work.  I then imagined how wonderful it would be to always work with people who are positive, energised, motivated and who solve problems instead of passing the buck to someone else, and then it struck me: in reality there will always be naysayers, and hence the motivation for this article (ok, and to release some pressure regarding this specific situation as well).
You just came up with the idea of a lifetime. You go to execute and WHAM! a rush of negativity comes up and slaps you in the face. Where did it come from? It might have been your boss, employee or colleague. Regardless of the source, you need to get the wind back in your sails and overcome their objections. But how do you do it?  After doing some reading on the topic, I found some good advice, and I would like to share some of the actions you can take when a naysayer threatens the livelihood of your great idea, adapted from an article by Kevin Daum: 1. Redirect them.  Politely point out that you are not looking for their input and suggest they spend their time focused on improving their own situation. 2. Give them credence.  Just because naysayers raise objections regularly doesn’t mean their objections are invalid. Give them credit for helping you identify potential flaws and risk factors in your plans. 3. Answer their objections. Do your homework and make a point of showing them facts (not opinions) that strongly support your approach. Calmly and methodically make your case. The more you demonstrate objectively that they are in error, the sooner they will back off out of embarrassment. 4. Recruit them.  Tell your naysayer you appreciate that he or she cared enough to identify upcoming challenges.  Be smart and ask if he or she will join you on this journey and help solve problems before they disrupt the process. In the worst case, your naysayer will back off and, in the best case, you’ll have the help of a valuable ally. 5. Eliminate them. If these people are constantly bringing you down, by all means stop hanging out with them. Take control of your environment and spend your time where people are supportive and encouraging.

Next Time
Now, after I have had my say about naysayers, next time I will discuss the matter of determining an organisation’s innovation maturity, an important first step before setting innovation goals. I conclude with a quote from Robert Collier: “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. That little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative”.

Sources:
Daum, K. 2013.  5 Ways to overcome the naysayers. Online: http://www.inc.com

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