December 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 2002 Current Issue
December 2002 Your CareerPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Rick Maurer

How to handle stonewalling naysayers and get them to hear your ideas

Have you ever tried to plan an event, and no one wanted what you wanted? It all seemed so clear, if only your colleagues and bosses would have listened.

The brick wall of resistance can kill compromise, no matter if you are trying to get the hotel staff to go along with a sudden change or to get your client to agree to a theme. By understanding how resistance gets in the way of your ideas, you can work to turn opposition into support.

When you see a person’s eyes glaze over, eyebrows furrow or head tip slightly to one side, those signs signify “I don’t understand.” That’s your cue to slow down and back up a little before all is lost. After all, if someone doesn’t get your idea, there’s no chance he will support it.

This is level-one resistance, which involves poor communication. Problems can arise, for instance, when planners use jargon to explain things to someone who is not a planner. Jargon works well in the office, but not so well in other realms.

Consider your audience. How can you pitch the idea in their language? Will pictures or an on-site walk-through help? Clear, two-way communication is the key.

Sometimes an idea triggers a fearful response, causing the listener to hem and haw about your idea or to actively oppose it.

This level-two resistance might be based on a colleague’s or superior’s fear that your terrific idea will make you look so good, her creative skills will pale by comparison. Or, if the concept is logistically tricky or requires bending the rules, she might worry something will go wrong and reflect badly on her.

The emotions behind level-two responses get in the way of productive communication. If they’re never aired, these fears fester until what was once a tiny bump is now an enormous boulder blocking the way. Try to recognize and swiftly address these concerns in order to push your idea forward.

Level-three resistance is not about your ideas it’s about you. Your history with others, as well as their biases, prejudices or mistrust, influence how they receive your idea.

Level-three resistance is the toughest to overcome because it’s hard to believe people simply don’t like you or something you stand for. However, if you ignore it, your ideas will go nowhere.

Step back and consider what others see when they look at you and what they hear when they listen to you. Think about your experiences with these people. Have prior dealings been pleasant or contentious? What is their past history with planners?

Once you’ve made an effort to see yourself and your idea through another’s eyes, try these techniques for working through and moving beyond all three levels of resistance.

Pay attention. Watch how others respond to your idea both verbally and through their body language.

Converse, don’t present. Ask questions to find out why someone opposes your idea.

Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Don’t be defensive or sarcastic, and don’t end the conversation in frustration.

Find ways to connect. Paraphrase others’ concerns to show you’re listening; embrace suggestions that piggyback on your idea; and invite others to join in the development and implementation of the idea.

Resistance actually is good: It demonstrates that others are intrigued enough about your ideas to oppose them. That might be cold comfort, but if you figure out what’s behind the resistance, you’ll be on your way to turning opposition into support.

Rick Maurer is an Arlington, Va.-based speaker and author of Why Don’t You Want What I Want? How to Win Support for Your Ideas Without Hard Sell, Manipulation, or Power Plays (Bard Press;

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