Beyond 51 percent: Gaining Buy-In

In the airport recently, coming home from New Mexico, I just picked up John Kotter  and Lorne A. Whitehead’s new little book, Buy*in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down.  The authors outline four ways in which attackers – consciously or not – try to kill new ideas:

–        Fear-mongering (hmm, where have we seen this before?)

–        Death by Delay

–        Sowing Confusion

–        Ridicule or Character Assassination

Their strategy for disarming these objectors is, at its heart, simple and counter-intuitive: instead of trying to work around naysayers, lining up votes in the cloakroom, ignoring vocal critics or trying to shout them down, Kotter and Whitehead suggest throwing open the doors and inviting the lions in. 

The key is then LISTENING WITH RESPECT. Kotter and Whitehead point out that trying to overwhelm the idea-attackers with more data and rebut them with more logical arguments won’t succeed. The critics need to be heard.

This research comports exactly with our teachings around building trust and gaining influence: listening as a sign of respect, letting others be heard before offering advice, the principle of reciprocity. Without first listening, we cannot be heard. And without being heard, our good advice or new ideas will never be accepted.

It really is that simple: to be heard, you have to listen first. 

The authors go on to give specific strategies for handling 24 objections, acknowledging the critic and at the same time avoiding getting drawn into inappropriate merits arguments. Take for example their Attack #18:

ATTACK: Good idea, but it’s the wrong time. We need to wait until this other thing is finished (or this other thing is started, or the situation changes in some specific way.)

RESPONSE: The best time is almost always when you have people excited and committed to make something happen. And that’s now.


As I read through Buy*in and thought about it in the context of Trusted Advisor Associates’ work, I was also struck by a conversation I had had the day before with my sister, whom I had been visiting in her home near Taos. I mentioned that people of all sorts seemed willing to tell her anything. 

She just smiled and said: “It’s because I’m not afraid to hear it.” A lesson I’m bringing home with me.

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