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How to respond when people say "that won't work because..."

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11th June

Life is full of people who point out why something won’t always work. This is usually swiftly followed by “… and because it won’t always work, it’s best we don’t ever do it”.

I had a good example of this recently. One of my customers asked me to write a script to convince more people to follow her approach. But, when she saw it, she said “that won’t work with Mr X”.

I asked if it would work with everybody else. She said she thought it would. So she used it – very successfully – on them; and I created a different script for Mr X, which also worked.

But if I hadn’t asked her who my first script would work for, she admitted she would probably not have used it with anyone…

When you look at it like this, it’s a bit odd. After all, nothing always works. There’s always a reason for not initiating something. But we want something that is most likely to work, most of the time. If you like, we should aim for success, not perfection.

So, the next time someone doesn’t want to adopt your suggestion:

  • Ask why not (politely, of course!)
  • Ask if your suggestion will work in certain situations; and use it for them
  • Ask when they think it wouldn’t work, and work together to devise an alternative approach for these scenarios

And if you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s ideas, don’t say “No” because you know it won’t always work. Instead:

  • Identify when it will, and use it then
  • Identify when it won’t, and find an alternative

This is a great approach to take. Will it always work? No, of course not: nothing always works!

But, when it’s appropriate, use it. It helps prevent needless stagnation. And that’s always worth doing.

Action point

Presenting an idea to someone else today? Unless you get 100% agreement, use the approach in the three bullets.

Someone presenting an idea to you? Unless you 100% agree with everything they say, use the two bullets.

Both will move things forward – better for everyone.

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