Newest? Youngest? Make Sure Your Good Ideas Get Heard in the Office.
Challenges in the workplace can sometimes be magnified by your age or tenure. How can you break away from the “amateur” or “newbie” stereotype?
Every time you start a new job or get assigned to a higher-level team project you have that feeling that you know you’ve got great potential – because why else would you have been selected? – but how do you impart your knowledge to your coworkers without sounding like a know-it-all? How do you help other people see that your ideas are good, and maybe even better?
We’ve all heard, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” right? Well, psychologists have spent the past decade researching why it is so difficult to change someone’s mind, even if to us outsiders it looks like they’re stuck in a rut. It doesn’t necessarily mean this person is doing a bad job, but they could probably do it better with a little fresh insight. The problem? Asking someone to change the way they function in a work environment, particularly if they’ve been in charge of a task or program for years, is a challenge to their competence and can quickly become emotionally charged, even if that’s not your intention.
John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky, authors of The Debunking Handbook, note that debunking beliefs to which there is an emotional attachment is more difficult than changing someone’s mind on, say, if the sky is blue, because it is not just about changing what someone thinks, but also how they think. In a recent interview with Lewandowsky, he says, “the first thing is to make people affirm their beliefs. Affirm that they’re not idiots, that they’re not dumb, that they’re not crazy…[so] they don’t feel attacked.” Once you have acknowledged the other person’s ideas as valid, then you can go on to suggest ways to change them.
While Cook and Lewandowsky’s research is focused on changing mythical beliefs around issues like global warming or welfare, I believe there is valid application of their approach in the workplace. I have found that with individuals who are particularly into themselves as being the big idea makers in an office, it is best to give small yet powerful suggestions to being breaking down an incorrect process. In order to do this, you need to fully understand how this person works. If you are on a project team with someone you know to be “bossy” or “controlling,” do your research. Before you walk into that first meeting, do two things:
Know your collaborator.
Go to one or two of your seasoned coworkers and say, “I’m really excited to be on this new team with Josephine, but I haven’t had an opportunity to work with her in such a direct setting. Could you please tell me a little about her management style?” Learning about the individual will give you an idea of how to approach her once you are sitting face to face.
Know your project.
If you are new to a company or new to a program it is critical to be on your game with the purpose, history, and current mission of this venture. Knowing these facts will provide you a strong foundation from which to approach the individual you may need to debunk. Know the processes of your project. Here’s a helpful resource for first timers: [amazon template=product&asin=1118497236]
When confronted with a situation where you need to debunk someone’s belief, Cook and Lewandowsky lay out three steps for doing so:
- Remember that rebuttal of a myth (incorrect belief or process) must focus on core facts (the correct information you are presenting) rather than the myth itself. – You want to help your coworker see a new idea, not entrench them in their old process of doing things.
- Preface any mention of the myth with a warning that the information you are about to give is false. – This will assist in helping your coworker remember that the mention of the incorrect belief or process is not the end goal or the change itself.
- Your rebuttal of the incorrect information or process should include a better (or, “more correct”) alternative that still accounts for important qualities in the original myth. – Find and acknowledge the valid parts of your coworker’s process and fold these positive pieces into your new proposal.
The best part about the information presented by Cook and Lewandowsky is that the reasoning and techniques behind debunking someone’s incorrect beliefs can be applied in many more situations. Once you’ve learned their tactics, you can smooth talk your way out of any Facebook or bar argument – and not by being the loudest, but by being the most correct.
More information on how to be a better communicator, as well as the full text of The Debunking Handbook by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky, can be found here.