How to Socialize Big Changes at Work, Part 2: Scale Up Your Effort

This is the second post in a three part series about how to socialize your ideas to get your team to adopt them.

Part 1: Start at the Grassroots Level

Part 2: Scale up your Effort (this post)

Part 3: Timing

OK! At this point, we’ve started to socialize our idea in our team, one person at a time. We might be ready to ask for time in a planning meeting to discuss it with the group, or maybe float it in a company group chat.

DO NOT: Start with ‘Fuck [x technology], LET’S DO [y technology]!!!!111oneone

If you start with ‘Fuck [some technology we’re already using], I have bad news for you. At some point, someone on your team made the decision to use that technology, and enough other people agreed that it became a part of your team’s tools. That decision maker, and probably several people who agreed with that decision maker, are still around.

So when you open with “Fuck [this thing you all decided to use],” you’re insulting and belittling the prior decisions of the exact people you’re trying to get on your side. This is not a strategic move.

In addition to insulting your colleagues, this move broadcasts that you haven’t done your research on the alternatives to your idea. You’re not aware of the reasons to use [x] technology versus [y] technology, because you’ve chosen to use the word ‘fuck’ (or some other dismissive term) instead of advocating based on the merits and drawbacks of the options. You don’t know why your coworkers went with [x]. Did you ask? Do you have information about the team’s needs that explain why [x] was used? How does that information affect your case for using [y]?

DO: Make your case in terms of circumstances.

Even if you and others think that [x] was an abjectly incorrect decision, you don’t want to risk putting someone on the defensive when you need them to listen to you. So, if you want your team to change course, it’s helpful to couch it in terms of circumstances and how those circumstances have changed. “Back when we picked up solution [x], [x] made sense because our circumstances were [a]. Now our circumstances have changed to [b], and so we’re experiencing pain [c] as a result of using [x]. Given that change in our circumstances, it could make sense for us to move to solution [y] instead. This way, your team can move to a new decision without insinuating that the old decision was wrong.

In fact, if you only get one takeaway from this series, let it be this technique. Equipped with this technique (and one other technique that involved peace gifts of chocolate covered almonds), I perfected the art of winning over cantankerous old guys who led whatever team wrote the system I was replacing. Sometimes the project is impossible without that person’s help, and you’ll win them over in ways that weeks of debating, then arguing, then yelling never could. You’ll be a hero! (Also, this person knows a ton of relevant information and a ton of interesting stuff. Every time you have an opportunity to listen to someone like this tell stories, do it).

DO: Present the drawbacks of your solution.

We’ve already covered the fact that, if you’re proposing a solution, you’ll gain credibility by doing your homework on the various alternatives to your solution. It is also important that you talk about the drawbacks to your solution.

A used car salesman in a wacky suit points skeazily at the camera. A car in the background has paint on its windshield that reads 'Like New!'

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re going to buy a used car. When you arrive at the lot, the salesperson leads you to a car and tells you all about how beautiful this car is, how well it steers, how it only has this many miles. What do you think of this salesperson? Do you trust them? Of course not! They’re trying to sell you this car. So you’re going to check the car inside and out for all the problems the salesperson wants to hide. Buyer beware!

If you’re trying to sell your idea on its strengths alone, you’re going to elicit that same reaction from your colleagues. They have to find all the flaws in your idea that you either apparently don’t know about, or that you are hiding. That is how people respond when they feel like they’re being sold. 

Instead, you can start with the limitations of your idea:’Here are some of the reasons why not to go with this solution.’ Rufus Griscom, a publishing industry veteran, explains how this approach disarms the audience. It doesn’t feel like sales—and if your audience no longer feels like buyers, they don’t have to beware quite so much. So they don’t spend your whole presentation trying to find the flaws in your idea. Instead they can listen to what you have to say and think about solutions to the drawbacks you mentioned. You want this. You want them thinking about how to reduce the pain associated with adopting your idea. When you have a room full of people thinking ‘how can we make this work?’ somebody in there just might want to try it with you. That’s how you start amassing the will and resources to turn your idea into a reality.


So you’ve done a little grassroots work, and now you’re ready to share your idea at the team level in a meeting or forum. You’re enthusiastic! But that enthusiasm can get in the way of gaining support from your teammates. Foremost, do not introduce your new idea by disparaging the alternatives. You never know whose judgment you’re insulting, and that person could stand in the way of your idea happening. Instead, make your case in terms of circumstances, which makes you look like you’ve done your research and allows people who disagree with you to save face. You’ll also want to present the drawbacks of your solution to your teammates so they don’t feel like you’re trying to sell them. This will help transition them from the mindset of poking holes in your idea to the mindset of helping you find solutions. And that’s exactly what you want!

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