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How to Sell Your Ideas to Difficult Colleagues

Published: Jan 24, 2021

In the workplace, you’re always “selling” something—yourself, your abilities, and especially your ideas. And if you want to be a successful employee, you need to know how to sell your ideas—in team meetings and in one-on-one conversations. Of course, some people are harder to sell than others—some people are resistant to even entertaining a new idea or starting a discussion. So below are three tips for selling your ideas to even the most disagreeable of colleagues.

1. Agree with them first.

This might seem counterintuitive when you're getting pushback on your ideas, but your difficult colleague won’t see it coming, and it will immediately diffuse any tension they might’ve been expecting. In fact, try agreeing with them no matter what they’re saying after you've passed along your ideas. You can do this by saying things like: "I totally get that." "Yes, you have a great point there." "That makes total sense, I understand where you’re coming from." "I didn’t think of it that way, but now I see what you mean."

Agreeing with your colleague will diffuse any tension or disagreeableness that they were expecting going into the conversation. And that leads to them letting their guards down, even if just a bit, which should allow you to begin an open dialogue about your ideas.

2. Ask open-ended questions.

Difficult people don’t want to be seen as difficult. They believe they’re simply doing what they honestly believe is right. They don't want to be seen as non-collaborative or hard to work with. So if you can be genuinely curious about their viewpoints and ask open-ended questions, you’ll uncover their worries and concerns. And maybe those worries and concerns are valid. Or maybe by asking you can steer the discussion into a collaborative direction.

When you ask open-ended questions, it makes it very difficult for someone to stay shut down. Open-ended questions invite people into collaborative, adult discussions, making it very difficult for them to refuse to engage. For example, try to ask questions like these when you find someone being resistant to discussion: "What are your concerns about X?" "What do you believe would be the downside of Y?" "What is most important to you about Z?"

 3. Thank them.

Regardless of how step two goes, try to stay calm. Try to understand that your colleague might not be ready to engage in an open discussion, that it might be too difficult for them to engage—yet. Also, try to remember that just by posing the questions you posed in step two, you’ve already challenged your colleague’s thinking. At this point, you want to keep the conversation light, not make it a big deal that they haven’t given you the response you wanted, and thank them for listening to you. You can express your gratitude by saying things like: "Thanks for hearing me out on that, I really appreciate your openness." "Thank you, I know you believe very strongly about this, so I appreciate your willingness to discuss."

The key, when your colleague is still closed off at this point, is to try to avoid being angry. Instead, continue to intentionally approach conversations with them—never get argumentative. If you can remain calm, it’s likely that your colleague will become more open and collaborative over time.

Natalie Fisher is best known for helping professionals land their ideal roles and achieve explosive salary growth (even with little experience). If you want to dive deeper on the topic of your career mindset and become a person who knows exactly how to land their dream job offer, listen to her on the podcast Get a Six Figure Job You Love.

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