Stupid obstacles often come in the form of people’s opinions, corporate policy, changes of direction, fire drills, conflicting goals, delayed decisions, unclear strategies … shall I go on? In IT, this is particularly challenging because no one outside of IT really understands IT. You do important heroic stuff that keeps the company running, and no one gets it so it’s easy to resort to thinking that your business counterpart are just being unreasonable.
It’s also important to understand that you can’t blame your failure on other people. It’s still your job to get your job done so six months or a year down the road, if the reason that you didn’t get something done is because someone else has or hasn’t done or approved something, you still have lost.
The right language
Clearing an obstacle put in place by another person or policy has everything to do with language. When you are confronted with difficult, rigid, indecisive, or, dare I say it, just plain stupid people, there are two language techniques I use to break the log jam and get things going again:
1. What is the name of the meeting the other person would want to attend? If, for example, your requests for budget approval from your business counterpart’s organization are being ignored, the name of the meeting you would want to have with that manger is called something like, “You are wrong and I need you to change your mind and approve this, because it’s killing me.”
But would they really want to attend that meeting? Probably not.
So change the name of the meeting to name their problem, not yours. When you are trying to get someone to do something for you, you need to name the meeting something that is relevant and motivating to them. Something like, “I want to discuss how IT is planning on solving your problem of attracting new customers.”
Then, when you have the meeting, make sure to stay relevant to them. Describe your problem in the context and actual vocabulary of the business problems they are facing right now, and how the action you are requesting is directly beneficial to them.
If you don’t use the right language, you will not be relevant to them, and you will continue to go unheard, and un-helped.
2. “I’m hoping you can help me … ”
The angrier and more frustrated you are, the more you are likely to start a conversation with something like, “This is all messed up because of your (insert whatever isn’t working here).” If you take this approach, do you really expect their reaction to be helpful at this point?
Even if it is all their fault, if you need to influence them to do something better or different, a far more useful approach is to open with, “I’m hoping you can help me … .”
I use this not only with colleagues, but with utility companies, hotels, and health insurance providers all the time. It works like a charm (I guess, because you are using some charm). This is because engage people want to help you.
When someone says to me, “I’m hoping you can help me … ”, I always think, “Hmmm … I wonder what this challenge might be? Can I really help? I’m kind of hoping I can help.”
This approach builds people up instead of bringing them down. You give them the power to help — if they choose to. Giving up this small bit of respect makes them want to help you and people generally like to help. If you don’t attack them first and tell them how wrong and incompetent they are, you stand a far greater chance of getting what you need from them.
I know it is frustrating when the people you are dealing with are actually wrong and/or less-than-optimally-intelligent, but if they are indeed creating an obstacle, it’s your job to clear the obstacle and get the job done, not to prove that you are right and they are wrong; that doesn’t get anything done and you both loose.
Today Patty is the CEO of Azzarello Group, a unique services organization that helps companies develop and motivate their top performers, execute their strategies, and grow their business, through talent management programs, leadership workshops, online products & public speaking.