“Why won’t they do what I want?” My client was exasperated with her internal stakeholders. She was struggling with getting alignment from those more senior to her. No one seemed to have time for her or cared about the things she cared about. Needless to say, she was very frustrated because she felt like she couldn’t do her job and, although she didn’t say it, I could tell she was feeling marginalized.
The issue with alignment from internal stakeholders who outrank you is a common one. Many feel like they don’t have the authority or the power to get people to do what they need them to do. If the roles were reversed, you’d just tell them what to do and voila! It’s done! However, just having the authority doesn’t solve everything. Even when you have the authority, people don’t always do what you want them to do (ask anyone that’s ever managed people!). We only tend to act because there is either a positive and negative consequence to doing so.
One of the reasons senior internal stakeholder are not responding to you is that they don’t feel like there is enough of a positive consequence (incentive) to do it or the negative consequence (sanction) to not doing it is so minimal, it doesn’t matter. If you can help them understand the consequences, you’ll be in a better position to them to want to talk to you.
While you are preparing for your conversation with them, try to answer the following questions:
- What’s in it for them to talk to me?
- What value can I bring them?
- What can I do for them that no one else can?
- What’s the payoff for them if the negotiation goes well?
- What pain will they have if they don’t talk to me?
- What will they miss out on?
- What won’t they be able to do without me?
- What happens if this negotiation doesn’t go well?
The answers will help you start to see the incentives and sanctions you have to encourage this individual to work with you. However, you should also spend time thinking about the individual and preparing how you will approach them. Here are some other things to consider when you approach them:
Style. Do you speak their language or are you forcing them to speak yours? I often find that if I can speak more of their language, use their words, and reflect their tone they will tune in better to me.
Credibility. What’s their perception of your track record? If they don’t know, they’ll always default to being skeptical about what you can do. I find that if I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t know my track record I look for common people in our circle that I can either refer to or even have put in a good word for me. Recommendations go a long ways.
Urgency. How urgent is the matter at hand? If the person you're dealing with has no sense of urgency, then they’ll be less motivated to help. Sometimes you’ll need to create that sense of urgency (looming deadlines, deal expiration, etc.). With a little bit of digging, you’ll find out how to make this urgent to them.
Assumptions. Do you know the assumptions the person has made about you and the situation? We all make assumptions and sometimes they are inaccurate. It doesn’t matter if they are accurate or not, because their perceptions are your reality. The sooner you know what they’ve assumed, the sooner you can deal with them.
All-in-all, if during your preparation you take time to think about the individual as well as the issue at hand, you’ll be in a better position to get them aligned with you.
Want Them To Do What You Want?
Great negotiators have a knack for getting the things they want. It’s not magic - it’s skill. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get internal stakeholders, boards of directors, clients, vendors and even your kids to do what you want them to do. If you have strong negotiating skills you can make it happen. Scotwork can make you a better negotiator.