Strategies for getting your ideas on the table without overpowering the group

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    In strategic planning, it is important that all voices be heard, and that includes yours. Unfortunately, if you are like most leaders, your voice comes with considerable baggage. When the boss speaks, people listen. And, they listen differently from when other people speak.

    Sure, there will likely be some people in the room who treat your voice like every other voice in the room. Whether the idea comes from you or a first-year manager, these people will state their agreement or disagreement with the idea in the exact same way, regardless of the source.

    Unfortunately, this probably isn’t the case for most of the people at the table. When you speak, most may be quick to respond when they agree, and very, very slow to respond when they disagree – so slow, in fact, that sometimes they may never get around to it!

    As a result of the lack of challenge many leaders experience within their own walls, the views of the leader can easily overpower the group. And even when someone dares to challenge with a question, some leaders, often without knowing it, respond with statements that belittle the questioner or not-so-subtly communicate that challenging the boss is not welcome.

    Consider the following strategies.

    STRATEGIES FOR GETTING YOUR IDEAS ON THE TABLE WITHOUT OVERPOWERING THE GROUP:

    Explain how your role differs inside and outside the room. Let your team know the following.

    • Your leadership title was left outside the door when you walked in.
    • Inside the planning room you are one member of the planning team and have one vote just like everyone else.
    • The strategic plan being formulated inside the room is the recommendation of the team and will go to the leader for the final decision.
    • Outside the planning room you put your leader title back on and will have the final say on the recommendation of the team. Should you as the leader decide to not accept a recommendation, you will let them know why.
    If you have a vision, goal, strategy or other element that you know you want to have the team consider, be intentional about getting it on the table.

    • In some cases it will be more helpful to state your view up front and gain feedback.
    • In other cases, it will be more helpful to give the team a chance to develop their ideas first and to suggest your idea only if the group did not come to it on its own.

    How do you decide which approach is more appropriate?

    • Generally, if you idea is focused on broad strategic direction (i.e., vision, mission, goals, and to some extent objectives), consider putting them on the table first for reaction.
    • If you idea is more narrow or focused on implementation (i.e., critical success factors, barriers, strategies or actions) it may very well be more appropriate to suggest your idea only if the group does not come up with it on their own.
    Avoid being the first, second or third person to respond.

    • Many leaders find it difficult to sit back when a comment is made that is clearly off track or may take the discussion in what they believe is the wrong direction. As a result, they speak up and give their comments first and predictably, the rest of the group typically follows the direction of the leader.
    • When I facilitate strategy sessions I make it a point prior to the first session to ask leaders to specifically not be the first, second or third person to respond to comments. I ask them to allow their people to speak up first and comment only after at least three others have given their views.
    Use open, rather than closed, language.

    • When a person says, “It won’t work,” that response is what I call closed language. The words say you have already made up your mind. And unfortunately, if someone has a different opinion, they will have to disagree with you, which many will typically choose not to do, as mentioned before.
    • A more open language statement would be, “I don’t see how that would work and still make us money.” The simple phrase, “I don’t see how,” implies that someone may be able to show you. The phrasing invites people to provide you information.
    • As a leader you may very well find that using open language gives people permission to provide you information that they might otherwise keep to themselves.

    Learn more ways to facilitate your group through strategic planning so that all voices, including yours, are heard. Take this course to discover more strategies – Secrets to Facilitating Strategy.

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    Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company and author of The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States, having trained over 18,000 individuals.