“The best way to persuade people is with your ears – by listening to them.”
– Dean Rusk





Over the last week my team has achieved a breakthrough on our key challenge.  We’ve been working for weeks seeking our way to a solution, often stumbling around in the dark.  Yet our perseverance has paid off and we created a workable solution around which to build our strategy.  Now, the team can focus on other supporting items that comprise other parts of our strategy.

Yet for me, there is a key challenge remaining.

I have one stakeholder who is dead-set against any proposal that is different than the approach of today.  I wrote about this previously in The Best, Feasible Course of Action.  One of my team members, who is the holdout’s deputy, has tried on several occasions to discuss our approach with him.  Despite the efforts, the stakeholder is still holding out.  I believe his reaction is an emotional one based upon the close-mindedness of his counter-arguments and also due to other things he has said which do not bear repeating here.

I could ignore the situation.  After all, if the managers and executives approve our approach, and I’m extremely confident they will, the holdout will need to conform or be replaced.  In one respect, it doesn’t have to be my challenge to face.  Yet I’m choosing to undertake this challenge for the greater good.

What my team member has tried is to persuade through reason: the presentation of logical arguments supported by solid data.  After all, this is NASA, and a great amount of our work is accomplished through that means.  Yet reason isn’t working here because the holdout is not open to or using reason as his basis.  Another persuasion tactic is to apply pressure, basically the choice of last resort I mentioned earlier.  Another persuasion tactic we tried earlier was to consult with him, to engage him in the problem solving process and integrate his concerns and ideas.  That approach made some progress.  However, it didn’t go far enough to get the holdout to the point that I’m seeking: to say yes that we have a well thought-through strategy that he will support implementing and can live with.  Given what he said to his deputy, it appears to me his support will be half-hearted at best; his participation appeared to be motived to persuade us to not make any changes.

There are other options to try, and that is what I’m going to do.

One is to seek the aid others with influence over him.  In this case, it is an uninvolved third party who happens to be familiar with the technical work of my team.  I’ve approached this third person and will share with him the basis of our strategy.  Unless I’m dead wrong about this, he will agree that our approach is not only workable, it also offers the best possible solution for maintaining excellence in our facilities given the circumstances of shuttle retirement, transition to sustaining operations on the International Space Station, and budgetary realities.  It is my desire that the third party approach the holdout and share his perspectives.

That is not the only route I’m going to take.

Another option is for me to meet one-on-one with the holdout and appeal to his aspirations, values, and ideals.  The inspire approach happens to be the technique that led to my team’s most recent breakthrough.  When I used the phrase, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”, wonderful results happened with my team last week.  I’m going to try the same with my holdout.  I know where his concerns are and will integrate those into my approach.  I will also appeal to him as having a key role to play in the implementation.  Then I’m going to listen to him.  In certain respects it doesn’t matter what strategy my team and I propose; ultimately it will come down to his attitude and how he approaches the future.

Persuasion. Let’s give it a go!