One of the most frustrating things about working with other people is trying to convince them of something you really believe in, only to have them dismiss it as unimportant. You tell them once, you repeat yourself, nothing happens. You get frustrated and wonder why they don’t take you seriously. Eventually you give up, annoyed. But it doesn’t have to end this way.
It is possible that the people you’re trying to convince are ignorant fools. But it’s far more likely that you’re falling into one of the following traps:
1. You’re saying it in the wrong way
When you try to convince someone of something, or to change someone’s mind about something, you need empathy. Understand what their world looks like, what made them reach the conclusion they reached? The more you can understand their position the easier it will be to try and move them.
If you’ve explained something to someone and they still don’t get it, try explaining it differently. Or drawing them a diagram or picture to illustrate. Maybe they need to see some code or numbers to understand. Explore different approaches until you hit on one that works.
2. You’re saying it to the wrong person
Sometimes you push and push. You use words, images, brilliant examples and still nothing seems to be changing. Take a step back and consider if you’re talking to the right person. Are they really empowered to change this? Even someone with the “Boss” job title might be the wrong person if they don’t hold the implicit power to make the change. if you suspect that the person you’ve been talking to is onboard but unable to help ask them “is there anyone else you think would be interested in talking about this?”. Give them an opening to pull in other people without losing face.
3. You’re saying it to someone who is actively blocking you (and they may not realise it)
As a general rule people don’t like change and they will actively block anything that makes them feel vulnerable. You’re missing the trust; they need to trust that you’re doing something for the right reasons, and you need to trust that their reaction is fair. Unfortunately not all relationships are made equal and there will certainly be times when you’re proposing change to someone who doesn’t trust you, or someone who might actually want you to fail for some reason. Even more trickily they might not even realise that they feel this way about you.
The only way to get around this, aside from maybe sidestepping them and working with someone else which incidentally reduces the trust relationship further, is to invest in the relationship. If they seem resistant to your suggestion trying working with them, talking to them, or just generally getting to know them without pushing your change proposal on them. If you’re lucky you might build enough of a relationship to allow you to successfully bring your suggestion to life.
4. You’re saying it at the wrong time
Sometimes you’re saying the right thing to the right person but you’ll have chosen the wrong time. Don’t grab your manager when they’re stressed out and expect them to care about something trivial in your life. Similarly, managers, don’t grab a stressed out report and expect them to receive career coaching well. Don’t wait for the hour before a big release to tell everyone that you think the whole idea of the product is wrong. People won’t care. They can’t afford to care. Pick a time when they can care.
5. You’re still saying it in the wrong place
The method of communicating is just as important as what you are communicating. Trying to explain a new, and complex concept to a novice who is sat in a meeting room with experts probably won’t work. They’ll be defensive and embarrassed. Consider when an email might be more appropriate than face-to-face. Is Slack the way to go? Whatever your method look at who else is listening in, are they helping or hindering?
Think about how you would feel if the tables were turned. Does your idea or advice still feel constructive? If not, change it.
6. You don’t have the bigger picture
Maybe you would be right if you had more context, but you don’t, so you’re wrong. If you’re lucky the person you’re trying to convince will fill you in on the missing context and explain why it matters. Unfortunately there are times when things are happening that you can’t know about, big company things, personal things, things involving peers. You might have success in explicitly asking if “there’s anything you’ve overlooked” to learn more about these things. Maybe talking to more people will help you build up a better picture of how things look. Unfortunately there will be times when you don’t have the context and you don’t know it, but no one fills you in. That’s tough, and probably hard to plan for.
7. You’re wrong
In a fair world being wrong wouldn’t be enough to make you ignored but the world is not fair. Sometimes when you say something to someone who thinks, or knows, you’re wrong they take the lazy route and simply ignore you. A debate or conversation with a patient and considerate person would explore why you believe something. Maybe you’d discuss case studies or data to back up your argument. In the course of the discussion holes in your argument would become apparent. Luckily rubber ducking can help you out. Before making any argument think through what you’re arguing for and why. What data do you have to back it up? If people have given you feedback before then apply it. Nothing is more likely to get you ignored than earning yourself a reputation for repeatedly making weak or impractical suggestions.
8. You’re making people feel vulnerable
When you say something that seem so obvious to you and it is met with silence, or opposition, remember this quote from Seth Godin “If you’re seeking to create positive change in your community, it’s almost certain you’ll be creating discomfort as well.”. Take change slowly and make it easy for people to be wrong.
Next time you find yourself being ignored take a step back and try to understand why. Empathise with the person who’s ignoring you, what are they feeling? Are you making them vulnerable or confused? Is your suggestion too trivial, or too political to be acknowledged? Use this information to build a bigger and better argument and then try again. Maybe you’ll need to bring in more people, or choose your time more carefully, maybe it is simply a case of changing your approach. Whatever it takes persist. Being ignored is not an excuse to avoid change.