It’s easy to reach a consensus when everyone nods in agreement. But what if you’re the sole resistor?
Challenging the prevailing wisdom carries some risk. For starters, you can alienate colleagues who seek a quick, unanimous vote. You can also harm your reputation as a team player. Worst of all, you might come across as an arrogant know-it-all if you act like you’re smarter than everyone else in the room.
Yet sometimes it’s necessary to not follow the herd. Even if people don’t like to be contradicted, you may feel compelled to explain your reasoning in a persuasive yet diplomatic way.
To respectfully punch a hole in the groupthink and reach a consensus:
Reach A Consensus: Start With Praise
Your odds of changing everyone’s mind soar if you cast yourself as an admiring ally, at least at first. Look for opportunities to compliment others for their input or insight. Thank the group for its efforts to gather information and analyze the situation. Praise the process as fair and thorough — and then pose a question.
“When people put their ideas out there, they’re looking for reinforcement,” said Don Gabor, author of “How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends.” “So rather than criticize their ideas, say, ‘That sounds great. What are some unintended consequences if we do that?’ “
Depersonalize Your Objection
Bluntness has its place, but not when you’re trying to pierce conventional wisdom. If you use harsh or judgmental language, you may drive away the people you’re trying to persuade to reach a consensus.
“Egos can be very high,” Gabor warned. So don’t say, “Let’s not all be sheep here.” Instead, say, “While we all want to reach the same goal, I’d like to propose an alternate path” or “As much as I share your desire to finalize this decision, my concern is … .”
Reach A Consensus: Cite A Third Party
Rather than portray yourself as a lone voice challenging groupthink, place yourself in like-minded company. Quote a legendary leader or respected industry guru to support your argument to reach a consensus.
“Recognize when somebody else has a great idea,” Gabor said. “That’s better than trying to show you’re smarter than all of them.”
Watch Your Timing
It’s fine to share your reservations early on, as long as you remain open to listening and allow the discussion to proceed amicably. But pounding your fist and demanding that everyone rethink their conclusions — and heed your warning — can backfire.
“It’s better to sit back, listen and watch the person pop off who thinks he’s a big shot,” Gabor said. “He thinks he knows everything, so let him talk. Then figure out a way to get your point across” after the most vocal individuals have their say.
Broaden The Debate
Typically, a consensus forms around a core set of assumptions. Play devil’s advocate or raise different assumptions if you want to expand everyone’s thinking.
“Sometimes what people think is the real issue, isn’t,” said Roger Firestien, a professor of creativity and innovation at SUNY Buffalo State College. “Use creative questions to challenge the initial definition of the problem.” Examples include, “How else might we do this?” and “What other ways can we approach this?”
If you’re peers with high-ranking executives who favor what you deem a misguided course of action, it’s risky to tell them they’re wrong. A more tactful strategy is to say, “I understand how you’re all thinking about this. But it’s been my experience that … .”
“If the powerful people and technical experts all agree, use your experience — or get outsiders with only peripheral knowledge of the issue — to provide a fresh perspective,” said Firestien, author of “Create in a Flash.”
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