If there’s anything an election year reminds us, it’s that disagreements are uncomfortable. When each side feels passionately about a topic, and neither is willing to hear facts, perspective, or concerns from the other side, the discussion reaches an impasse. Occasionally, when debate occurs between people in a healthy relationship, it’s possible to agree to disagree. But when the opponent is your boss, and the issue at hand can’t be ignored, a more thoughtful approach is necessary.
Influencing senior leadership requires planning and careful consideration. Unless the company is built on a culture of radical transparency and honesty, a small disagreement could be seen as insubordination. So, before you challenge anyone, be sure you’ve chosen the right battle.
If you’ve chosen a battle worth fighting, then your next step is to do your homework. Everyone prefers to be pitched in a different way. Some prefer a formal presentation, while others want a 30-second elevator pitch of your top 3 points. Know your opponent’s personal influence and communication style and use that to your advantage. The more closely you can match the tone, pace, and delivery style they prefer, the more they will hear your message and not be distracted by pet peeves.
Next, arm yourself with three key weapons:
- Data – Anecdotal information never alters the opinion of someone deeply entrenched in their beliefs. Be ready to show how you arrived at your conclusion through facts, statistics, and irrefutable data points. Gathering data to support your side is only half the battle. Brainstorm a few likely challenges you’ll hear from senior leaders and investigate them from a data standpoint. Even if the leaders don’t ask the question, you can at least be more confident that you haven’t fallen prey to confirmation bias.
- Insiders – Find respected individuals within your organization who agree with you and would be willing to join your crusade. The more voices united on a topic, the more difficult it is for the leader to ignore. But be careful here, there’s a tipping point. You don’t want to appear as though you’ve incited a mob. Strategically select a few key influencers that you know your leaders trust and ask them to join your pitch.
- Outsiders – While insiders can be helpful because they know your business intimately, an outsider is occasionally more influential because they are seen as unbiased. Market research is powerful and difficult to ignore. Independent outside analysts can help you make your case by also sharing larger industry trends or competitor activities.
While each approach to influence another is independently strong, combining all three is powerful. Disagreeing with senior leaders on important topics can be terrifying, but when you do so through well-reasoned arguments, data, and independent research, you could actually strengthen your reputation among senior leadership. When approached strategically, a disagreement can earn respect and trust among powerful players.