Can I make a suggestion?

I have been particularly enjoying my coaching work recently. I think that this is partly due to the unprecedented situation that Covid-19 has created. Suddenly all of our expectations about how things work and what is possible have been tossed in the air like cherry blossom petals in a Kyoto spring breeze. Even the most experienced leaders can’t be sure of anything anymore. While the cause is terrible, I do appreciate the side-effect that people are having to switch off their auto-pilot and start thinking again.

And as it is a time for fresh ideas, I have been reflecting on the implications for how we best influence those around us. What are the opportunities for change? And how can we give our ideas the best chance to be heard?

I love to ask a question that opens up a new opportunity or shines a light on an unexpected treasure. As a coach I am free from having to be the expert in the amazing things that my clients live and breathe. As long as I have their best interests at heart and clarity on their ambitions I can help them slow down, think afresh and see new opportunities.

I believe this approach applies outside of coaching too.

Obviously not all ideas bear scrutiny in the cold light of day. But it fascinates me that some people will be open to suggestions and influence, while others – not so much! I have concluded that this is not so much about the quality of a contribution but relates to a range of variables that we can usefully pay attention to when we want to be heard.

So, when you want to offer an opinion or influence the direction of an outcome the following might help:

  • Don’t assume any value or make any investment in your suggestion – you are not the expert. If they see value – great. If they don’t, that is also fine. Explain the idea by all means but don’t try to sell it.
  • If you make it easy to reject it, an idea is more likely to get air-time. ‘This is probably something you have already considered but…’ or ‘I am clearly out of my depth but I wonder if it might be an idea to…’
  • Timing is everything. On some days people will welcome your opinions. On other days they will not be able to hear them. The more you understand the immediate pressures and mind-set, the better you can judge when to be creative.
  • Your opinion will be valued if your relationship is strong. We listen to those we trust – when people feel that you respect them, you have a better chance to be heard.
  • The best ideas were theirs all along. Allow history to rewrite itself. The seeds of a suggestion you sow might grow into a strategy and one day you will hear it was their idea from the start! Tell your ego to get over itself and see this as a win.

Writing these thoughts down prompts me to wonder how I might take my own advice outside my coaching work? I am not sure my friends or family would agree that I hold my opinions so lightly! Work to be done…

If you have any opinions on this piece I would love to hear them, so please do get in touch.