What’s in it for me? Part 3 – Navigating the Minefield

fence with warning sign for minefield

In What’s in it for me? Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed how change requires sacrifice on the parts of those being asked to change, and the motivations that come into play or can be employed to encourage the change.

Today, we’re going to discuss assumptions and how they affect the change you’re trying to create.

Looking at our “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) model of behavior, we know that people are better engaged when your request demonstrates how they can benefit—illustrating “What’s in it for me” to get their buy in and hitting the right motivational quadrants to help them perceive the maximum positive benefits of the request for themselves.

But there’s still another obstacle that can trip up acceptance of your request: their assumptions.

Even with what you say, the people you’re talking to are going to have assumptions about it. It’s just human nature. Each one of them is a human being with a brain, a heart, and a history. If there’s some detail they think of that you left out, they’ll make an assumption. Humans are rationalizing machines. We hate gaps in any narrative or story, and we’ll fill them in ourselves using past experience.

Yes, you read that right. Make a request, leave out a detail, and the people you’re making the request of will look back to some similar, previous experience of theirs and assume you’re going to do the same thing—usually without saying anything to you.

Like looking out over a minefield, you’re up against their every memory of every time each one of them has been burned. If they see any similarity, they’ll assume the same about your request. Ask your team to pull together for a final fourth-quarter push to increase revenue for the year and one of those people was laid off in a previous job after a big Q4 push—guess what she sees in your request? She starts worrying about keeping her job, the unhappy end of that old job playing over and over in her head. She may even share her experience and doubts with other team members…

BOOM! There goes your compliance and support. And there goes your initiative.

Your audience has needs, wants, and desires, all of it wrapped up in a lifetime of experience. So how do you get around your audience’s assumptions? Especially if they don’t voice them?

You have to be open with them. And honest. People have powerful BS detectors, and if they catch even a hint of deception from you, all that you say will be disregarded as they try to second-guess you.

Is your Q4 push designed to hit a target that will trigger bonuses for the team? Tell them that, in detail, with all the numbers. Is it because the last two quarters have been low, and if revenues don’t increase above a certain level, there’s going to be belt-tightening company-wide? Tell them. Even if it’s news they don’t want to hear, once they know, they won’t need to make assumptions. And they’ll be more likely to be on your side in taking on your request.

Here’s the secret to all of this: It’s not them. It’s you. You’re in a relationship with these people (yes, as much as you want to treat each program and initiative as a system, you’re dealing with people). Good relationships—deep meaningful, lasting, successful relationships—require willingness to be vulnerable, to demonstrate that you don’t have all the solutions and need support.

To get the buy-in and results you want, tell them what you want. Tell them why, and ask them what they want. Then align your request to that so they can understand the goal, see the benefits, and gain the proper motivation to become inspired.

So that each one knows What’s in it for me?