When The Pursuit of Buy-in Becomes Manipulation

Most leaders understand the 8b2f6a80-5b13-4bcd-84ba-8518b419a9ceimportance of getting buy-in. Few understand how to achieve it. As a result, their efforts frequently cross the line to manipulation. Are you one of them?

If you have ever said, “We want people to feel they’ve been heard,” then you are probably one of them. Especially if your next steps are to attempt to create that feeling of being heard by asking for input on a decision that has already been made. That is pure manipulation. 

To make matters worse, your employees aren’t stupid. They know when they are being manipulated. Thus, insincere requests for input are worse than no request at all.

Fear of resistance drives a lot of loony behavior when it comes to the pursuit of buy-in. The predominant belief seems to be that if we talk to everyone, everyone will love our conclusions.

So let’s get clear about this buy-in business.

  • You don’t want people to feel they’ve been heard. You want their commitment. “Feeling they’ve been heard” is a passive, squishy sentiment. You want commitment. You want people ready to knock down walls to support you.
  • Commitment may or may not require providing input. What is critical is that people trust your process. And they will trust your process if they:
    • Understand what decision is being made and why.
    • Believe that the people making the decision are informed and fair.
    • Know if and how they can contribute.
    • Know what to do if they question the process, whether to impact the decision at hand or to improve the way future decisions are made.
  • You need to be clear about your process. It is tough for people to trust an ill-defined, sloppy process. Establish your steps and determine whom to involve at each one.
  • Instead of collecting expansive input from everyone and his brother that you don’t really want and may never use, focus on:
    • content input to ensure decision makers are informed at each step and
    • process input to ensure those from whom you need commitment (not everyone remotely connected to the project) trust the decision makers and the process.

To shed old misconceptions, stop talking about buy-in. It’s commitment you want. Talk about that and follow these steps to create it.

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