If you have a good idea, whether as small as what flavor of cake to serve at your best friend's birthday party, or as large as what company to merge with, and you want to help create strong buy-in among relevant others, you can take the following four simple steps, which will save you time, boost your confidence, and greatly improve your chance of success.
First, take stock of where you are and make sure you have not forgotten anything obvious.
It never hurts to double check the plan: have we really listened to feedback carefully and incorporated any good suggestions into the proposal?
Review what communications (if any) have already gone out about the plan (one-on-one talks, meetings, memos, e-mail), and evaluate how much buy-in has already been achieved. Be careful here. People tend to overestimate how much others understand, much less embrace, a good idea. Do you really know who needs to buy-in and how much they already have? What concrete evidence is available?
Ask yourself: what else has been done already of the sort that communication specialists recommend?
- Have you made sure your idea is crystal clear. Can you explain it to someone in an elevator ride up to the top of the Empire State Building?
- Has anyone talked to likely supporters about the material before going into a broader discussion with the relevant community.
- If some supporters are in a more logical position to address some of the attacks, have they been asked to do so.
- Is there an overall plan about when and how to best communicate to relevant others.
- If the plan calls for a face-to-face meeting, as in the Centerville story, have you tried to role-play the meeting in advance with other supporters acting as attackers; you then try to respond, immediately, as you would have to during your actual meeting.
- Never forget that a good rule of thumb is that it's impossible to over-communicate, using different settings and using different modes of communication.
- Etc. (a good communication's professional can probably add another dozen ideas, so consider asking one).
Brush up on this book
Think about the key messages of this book: the four attack strategies, the overall response strategy, and the 24 specific attacks and responses.
Remember that there really are just four basic attack strategies:
- Fear Mongering
- Death by Delay
- Ridicule and Character Assassination
And there are only a few elements in your response strategy.
- Let the attackers into the discussion and let them go after you.
- Keep your responses clear, simple, crisp, and full of common sense.
- Show respect, constantly. Don't fight, or collapse, or become defensive.
- Focus on the whole audience. Don't be distracted by the detractors.
- Prepare for the inevitable attacks, with more preparation the bigger are the stakes.
And remember: there is no reason to memorize the 24 specific attacks and responses. USE THE 24 ATTACK/RESPONSE PAGES IN THE BOOK. If the stakes are small, there are few people that need to buy-in, and you don't have a dozen distracters, a quick flip through those pages might be helpful. And after sufficient use, you will start to remember the most common attacks and responses. As the stakes and the numbers go up, brainstorming the possible attacks is more worth the time investment.
Brainstorm possible attacks
If the stakes are big enough, always set aside time for one or more brainstorming session. As with any creative session, it is preferable to have a small group, not you alone. It's ideal if the group includes fairly creative people with differing outlooks. It's very helpful to go through the list of 24 generic forms of attack, and, for each, try to anticipate tough attacks of that general type, but in a form that is specific to your particular situation. Often when scanning the attacks, you will think of a 25th or 26th that is a slight variation on our list. A good response will probably also be a slight variation on our response.
This is actually easier than it may at first seem, because at any one time, some of the attacks won't apply, and some may be quite obvious and won't need much thought. But for those that are relevant—could be 5, could be 14—creative brainstorming will be golden. You will uncover potential attacks that otherwise would have been missed, and you will discover the joy of having a respectful, effective response at your fingertips when you really need it.
As a specific example of the creative process, consider attack #16, "Tried that before and it didn't work". If you can imagine that coming up, think about specific failures in the past that an attacker could point to in this way. The generic response is "That was then, this is now". But it will be very helpful for you to have at top of mind what is different now on this specific issue – preferably things that are simple and clearly true—and be prepared to express this in a way that is not disrespectful and is easily understood by the people who will be listening.
This homework needn't take long, but it is more than worth the effort because very few of us can respond well in real time to unexpected attacks. To put it another way, how often have you walked away, frustrated, from an encounter and thought "if only I had said…".
And—because preparation makes you more self-confident, and self confidence that is based on something solid, not wishful thinking, you are often able to reflect faster, in the heat of a battle, when hit with an unexpected attack.
Finally, be sure to actually use the method we describe in this book and the responses that you devise in the brainstorming process. This point seems ridiculously obvious, yet people read and even refer to books all the time but don't really use them when needed. The barrage of tasks, information, meetings, and so on that clog our days get in the way. Don't let that happen to you.
And never forget: don't run away from attacks, go towards them. It will save good ideas. With significant proposals, this method may even—at least once in a while—make the world a little bit better, for us and for future generations.