How to Earn Buy-In
You can sometimes cajole, nag, or even force people to help you accomplish your tasks, projects, and goals. But none of that will get you anywhere near as much cooperation, effort, and enthusiasm as you’ll receive when you earn their “buy-in.”
In certain situations, people will be ready, willing, and even eager to join you in your quest, particularly when you’re asking for help with some noble cause. Most of the time, however, the people you ask for help will start out feeling indifferent – or even antagonistic – to the task, project, or goal that’s important to you.
Fortunately, there are some simple strategies and techniques you can use to bring people into closer alignment with whatever you are trying to accomplish in your work and your life.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Engage in Dialog
The most common approach to getting help from someone is to pitch them: You start talking, telling them about the importance and value of your task, project or goal, and perhaps segueing into the rewards they can expect from putting their shoulder to the wheel, as you are asking them to do.
That’s rarely the best approach.
You’ll earn far more buy-in when you start with a two-way conversation. To do this:
- Work the conversation around to the track you’re aiming for, perhaps by describing what you’re trying to accomplish and why.
- Stop talking and start listening. Try to figure out where the other person is coming from: what they’re thinking and feeling about your task, project, or goal.
- Try to withhold any negative judgments about what they are saying, thinking, and feeling.
- Ask open-ended questions, along the lines of:
- How did you come to feel this way?
- How do you see this playing out?
- What problems do you ahead see for those involved in this effort?
- Restate what they’re saying in your own words. It’s the best way of letting them know you understand their position and point of view.
It’s also important you avoid objecting to or disagreeing with anything they say, at least in these early stages of the conversation.
It’s likely you already have built some degree of trust with the person you’re asking to cooperate on your task, project, or goal. Even so, it’s helpful to work on building more trust on the particular issue at hand.
You can do this not only by withholding judgment, but also by cultivating transparency: Be completely honest about your motives for pursuing this issue, and also about the current state of your efforts. Offer details about the resources you have already lined up, the help and commitments you’ve already obtained, and the progress you’ve already made.
You can also build trust by sharing what you hope to obtain from the person you’re talking with:
- What’s the time frame of the commitment you’re seeking from them?
- How many hours per day, week, month, or year?
- What sort of work would you like them to do?
- What resources would you like this person to contribute?
It’s also helpful to reveal any obstacles and downsides you see ahead, particularly as they may impact the person you’re talking with.
Once you’ve laid this groundwork, you can begin to ask for their buy-in.
One approach is simply to ask them to do what you want. Another approach is to ask how they see themselves fitting into the task, project, or goal you’re talking about. Either way, view this part of the conversation as a two-way negotiation, rather than a one-way demand or an offer.
Because it’s a negotiation, you can use some specific techniques that will help you gain buy-in. These include:
- Break your request into several smaller chunks and work to gain agreement separately on each one.
- Respond to every objection by getting to the underlying reason and offering any changes you can make to work around it. Some of these will be practical, but some will be – even more important – emotional, including such feelings as purpose, self-esteem, and “giving back.”
- Sweeten the deal, as necessary, to get closer to an enthusiastic buy-in.
- Reduce the commitment.
- Increase the reward.
- Shorten the time-frame.
- Craft a way for the person to “opt-out” if the arrangement doesn’t work out.
Recognize that buy-in has emotional components as well as practical components. You can adjust the practical components all you like, but if you haven’t paid enough attention to the emotional components, you’ll find it much more difficult to earn a person’s buy-in.
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