The secret trick to gaining agreement at work

April 11, 2018

You spent a lot of time preparing your presentation for the upcoming meeting. You thought you had everything ready and a pretty persuasive argument.

You started your presentation strong, but then someone asked a tough question and your voice faltered as you tried to answer. Then someone else brought up something you hadn’t thought of. Suddenly, the rest of the managers in the room jumped in with their own questions.

Nothing during the meeting went as you’d expected and you walked away from the meeting without the approval you’d wanted. Has this ever happened to you?

It’s human nature to want to take the time to understand a situation by asking questions and considering options. This can be cumbersome to do if you’re presenting your concept in front of a large group of managers. That’s because each person will want to dive into different areas of your topic, based on their own areas of expertise. Usually, each manager will have different questions and they’ll see the situation from different angles.

What can you do when you need to obtain management approval and want to avoid having the meeting devolve into chaos? Take a page from Japanese business culture by never pitching a topic in a meeting that hasn’t already been discussed with each person.

Early in my career, I worked for a large, global Japanese company. And I made a big mistake. I tried to pitch an idea and obtain approval during a meeting in front of a group of about 15 managers. None of the managers had seen my idea until they were all sitting in the meeting room. As you can probably guess, the meeting turned out to be a disaster… but it was a great learning experience.

I look back now and laugh at my eagerness to obtain their approval, thinking all it would take were some fabulous PowerPoint slides and a calm presentation style. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

That’s when I was introduced to the Japanese business culture method of testing the waters with each person about a topic – before ever stepping into a meeting room with a large group of managers.

Here is the Japanese process I learned:

  • Create the draft presentation: When doing this, be sure to organize your thought process in a logical manner, such as describing the current situation, issues occurring, recommendations, draft implementation plan, draft control plan, estimated costs, timing, and anything else of importance.
  • Identify all the key stakeholders: This could include the managers of departments/teams who will be impacted by the recommendations, those who would need to approve the plan, or those who would need to participate in the implementation of the solution.
  • Meet with each stakeholder: One by one, meet with each person to review your draft presentation, to obtain their feedback and to ask them to play devil’s advocate and help you see every angle of the situation.
  • Update your draft presentation: After meeting with each person, make updates or adjustments to your presentation.
  • Present your final version: After you’ve met with everyone and used all their combined expertise to improve your recommendation, include your topic as an agenda item for the next management meeting. During the meeting, share the final version, being careful to note any changes or enhancements to it, and giving credit to all those in the meeting room who participated in the “vetting” process.

I have followed this process throughout my career and, thankfully, it’s saved me from making any more over-eager missteps.

What I really love about this process is that it helps me take a step back so I can see the situation from the bigger picture – through the eyes of all the stakeholders – and it helps me ensure the best possible solution.

So often in today’s fast-paced, high-technology environment we end up working at warp speed. This technique helps me slow down, so I won’t miss anything important and helps guarantee management approval – because the key stakeholders are involved in the creation of the final solution.

~ Lisa Quast

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