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Responding To Naysayers And Skeptics

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Mar. 5 2013, Published 5:00 a.m. ET

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Like so many of us, you have probably been there before, in a meeting room, standing in front of your colleagues, power pointing your way to getting buy-in on a business plan. You’re just about to start the wrap-up when the saboteur strikes: “but we tried that two years ago and it didn’t get us anywhere. And you think it’s going to work now, in this economy?”

At best, the saboteur is a skeptic, but at worst—as is usually the case—you’re facing a naysayer, someone who makes a habit of shooting people down, whether in a business meeting or at the local pub. “The role of a naysayer is a natural one,” says Lorne Whitehead. “He or she is out there in all parts of society. It’s simple human nature.”

Whitehead is the coauthor of Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down. along with Harvard business school professor John Kotter, Whitehead has written a virtual one-stop reference resource for turning congenital saboteurs or mere critics into true believers.

Whitehead and Kotter’s advice for neutralizing critics and getting buy-in is counterintuitive. “It is much more effective to engage your attackers and draw them in than to draw a line and confront them,” says White- head, who is Leader of education innovation at the university of british Columbia. “People, and I mean naysayers, will respect you more if you respect them, namely by acknowledging them and their criticism.

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Also, their attacks draw attention to your proposal and attention is very valuable. And, if you handle the attack well, you’ll look good and win credibility.

The coauthors describe five tactics for disarming critics.

For advice on how to deal with skeptics, download the full PDF: RespondingtoNaysayers.

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