Message from Julie: Turning “Nay Sayers” into “Yay Sayers”

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You have undoubtedly experienced it – that feeling of having cold water thrown in your face when you present an idea to your staff, your boss, a colleague, your kids or even your spouse and they respond with a litany of reasons why it won’t work or why you can’t do it. Perhaps there is that one colleague you dread presenting anything new to because you know what their reaction is going to be.

A business owner recently recanted a story to me about a large, custom project that the sales team was working to secure. The sales manager dreaded talking to the production manager about this project because he feared the production manager would have all kinds of reasons why they couldn’t do the project. In organizations this tends to be a common occurrence, especially between certain departments like sales and production or operations; marketing and compliance; operations and legal – the list could go on and on.

From a very simplistic neurological perspective here is what’s going on. The presentation of a new idea causes the other person’s brain to go on alert to possible danger, shutting down the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls problem solving, innovation and creativity. Their response, which you perceive to be negative, puts you into a defensive state and shuts down your prefrontal cortex. The situation quickly escalates into a no-win conflict. Daniel Goleman, author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, coined the term “amygdala hijack” to describe this situation.

How can you prevent the amygdala from hijacking your ideas so you can move from “why we can’t” to how can we”?

Problem solving, creativity and innovation can only occur when the people involved are operating from the part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. If you want your ideas to be accepted you must operate from your prefrontal cortex or executive brain and you must help the other person to do the same.

Here are some tips to help you do that.

Recognize the Pattern

Our brains are hard-wired to look for patterns. Some people’s hard-wiring causes them to initially respond to new ideas by finding all the reasons the ideas won’t work. This is especially true of individuals whose job it is to look for what is not working or what might go wrong, for example computer coders, auditors, or those in the legal and risk department. When you are dealing with someone whose initial (subconscious) reaction is to look for why something won’t work recognize and accept that this is just their pattern without reacting to it.

Once they have detailed the reasons why it won’t work then they are in a position to problem solve and look for how to make it work. The key here is for you to recognize that this is just how the other person is and not react. A task that can be difficult I know. One of the tricks I use to help me keep my executive brain in control during situations like this is briefly touch the side of my forehead. This helps me bring my focus back to the prefrontal cortex which is located in the front part of the brain behind your forehead.

Adapt Your Approach

When presenting a new idea, state up front that you know there may be some issues or concerns that will need to be worked through or that what you are proposing may not even be possible. This helps the other person’s brain keep from going on “danger” alert and will allow them to be more open to the new idea or change.

Be Clear on the What – Dialogue the How

In initial conversations, focus on what you are trying to accomplish and avoid a detailed presentation of how to accomplish the desired outcome. Once you gain agreement on what you want to accomplish you can work together to develop an acceptable way to accomplish the outcome. For example, let’s say a sales person has a prospective client that needs payment terms that are outside the standard terms. Instead of going to the accounting department with specific terms that you want to offer this customer, tell them what the goal is – perhaps to minimize cash outlay at the end of each quarter – and work with accounting to develop the specifics of how to do this.

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Acknowledge Concerns

Be open to listening to the concerns the other person has. Often there are legitimate concerns that you may not have thought about and that may cause you problems down the road. Acknowledge concerns and be open to working together to overcome them.

You may not be able to avoid every amygdala hijack. However recognizing when they amygdala has taken control of your brain or the other person’s and using the strategies above can help you regain control and turn “nay sayers” into “yay sayers”.

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POSTED ON: Emotional Intelligence