Tips on keeping your trial balloons from being shot down

Here are two distinctly different ways to begin today’s column on how to effectively persuade people to accept new ideas at work.

“New rules on communicating policy changes.”

As an expert on organizational communications, I want to change our approach in presenting revised policies to subordinates. Since your expertise is in other areas, I am sure you’re not aware of these new, groundbreaking techniques. This organization has trouble generating enthusiastic buy-in to new procedures, so listen carefully to these five rules on communicating them. They go into effect immediately.


“Tips on generating enthusiastic acceptance on improving customer service.”

As you may already know, we’ve had difficulty getting our people to buy into new policies. Perhaps we presented these changes ineffectively. Remember as kids when our parents told us where we were going on vacation without even asking how we felt? Or they flat out refused to even consider letting us bring a friend along? We’ve come up with some exciting ways to present new ideas that we’d like you to consider using as background your experience and knowledge in working here. We’re eager to hear your feedback.

Which approach feels right to you? We’re betting our next bonus that the latter approach has a more friendly, team-building sound to it.

One of the most daunting business challenges is successfully presenting new ideas to a skeptical audience, said Shelle Rose Charvet, a Canadian linguist and business communications consultant.

“How many times have you had a great idea shot down immediately after presenting it?” she asked an assembled group of corporate human resource executives. “Have you ever felt uncomfortable having to beg, grovel, plead or make an excuse just to get people to listen to you when you’re presenting ideas that represent change?”

Whether selling a product or service, a major policy shift or anything you want people to be wildly enthusiastic about, how the message is delivered is key to gaining initial acceptance or, at least, consideration, she said.

“I am not a big fan of the ‘tell them what you want, why you want it, and when you expect the change to take effect,” said Rose Charvet, author of “Words That Change Minds, Mastering the Language of Influence” (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1997). That approach usually engenders resistance or eye-rolling boredom, she said.

Instead, clear mental space so your audience can better identify with the idea you’re introducing by following four steps:

  • Create your main message. Decide precisely what you want to get across and how best to articulate it. “If you’re introducing a new system or policy, for instance, what you really want to get across is that you want them to buy-in to improving what your organization is doing,” Rose Charvet said. Avoid the word “change.” That “causes large numbers of people to stick their fingers down their throats,” she said.

  • Identify objections. Change begets resistance that’s articulated in many ways: “I’m too old to learn a new technique,” “It’s a waste of time,” or “We’ve always done it” (the old way). “Sometimes merely acknowledging the objections is enough to defuse them,” Rose Charvet said.

  • Find common experiences that help make your case. Numbers and statistics aren’t always persuasive. Think of universal experiences everybody can relate to in furthering your message. For instance, if advocating personal goal-setting as an individual improvement technique, you could say, “Remember when you didn’t know what to do and someone persuaded you to do something that wasn’t right?” Or, “Remember when you wanted something so badly (a bike, a date, a job) that you made it happen despite all the barriers in front of you?”

  • Use the language of suggestion and engage your audience. Using phrases like “as you well know,” “we all realize,” “in my experience,” to couch your message will go much farther than “this is probably news to you,” “we (management) have just learned,” or “the best way to go is.” Create a dialogue by asking for audience feedback or ways others have dealt with the issue at hand.

    “When presenting change,” Rose Charvet said, “you want your approach to create a sense of curiosity rather than engender annoyance.”

    Write Eric Zoeckler at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206 or e-mail

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