Crucial Conversations QA

How to Change Someone’s Opinion of You

Dear Steve,

Last year, our department’s vice president was laid off and the entire group was moved under the Director of Operations, someone I didn’t know very well. Since the change, he has not made much of an effort to get to know our team and I have had only a handful of interactions with him. On a recent performance review, he commented that I, “can come across as close-minded if I offer an alternative to his suggestion.” I am not sure what he is referring to, especially considering our limited interaction. I am a licensed professional engineer, so some things I work on have to be “just so” from a legal perspective but, otherwise, I feel I welcome alternative solutions on my projects. How can I approach this director to get some feedback without it seeming like I’m arguing with his assessment or trying to defend my position? How can I demonstrate to my managers and colleagues alike that I am open to suggestions?

Sincerely,
Open to Suggestions

Dear Open,

Years ago, my colleagues and I found ourselves in a similar situation after we were shifted to a new reporting structure. It was a little different in that our previous boss remained in the organization and we’d still see him. For a while after the change, one of my colleagues would tell him, “You’ll always be the boss of my heart; even though you’re no longer the boss of my now.” At first, I considered it to be a clever quip, but I now understand that it’s more than a clever quip. It reflects the difficulty many experience following a change in leadership. You’re trying to understand new performance expectations, how to best approach your new boss, how he or she will respond to different circumstances, and what his or her preferences are.

I recommend the very next action you take is to schedule a meeting with the Director of Operations. The purpose of the meeting is not to list off a bunch of examples of how you are open and flexible, but rather to understand his perspective shaping the feedback he gave you. I’d start by stating your purpose, something like, “I want to make sure we work well together, so I’d like to take time to really understand how you see our working relationship—especially your views about how open and/or closed-minded you believe I am.”

During the meeting, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible in listening mode rather than explaining or justifying mode. Listen specifically for details and examples of how you have actually been closed-minded. Don’t settle for broad descriptions like, “You’re not open to alternative points of view.” If necessary, probe for more detail. Ask him to describe the last time he experienced that with you. Get specific, observable behaviors. You need to understand where his story came from so that you’re not in the position of trying to talk your way out of a situation you behaved your way into. At the conclusion of your meeting, thank him for his time and leave him with an invitation to get back with you with any additional information that might occur to him.

At this point, you should have enough data about the Director to take some action. All that questioning and probing you did is less about you, and more about how he sees the world, as well as how you fit into that world. Look for the times, situations, and circumstances where he most often sees you as closed-minded, and then identify what you can do in those moments to augment the “open-minded” data stream you’d like him to tap into. To do this, I recommend you work with symbolic actions.

A symbolic action is any action you take where other people who are watching will walk away having concluded what you care about, what your priorities are, and even what you value. Now for those of you who have leadership positions, what percentage of your actions would you guess are symbolic? Did you guess 100%? If you did, you would be correct; it’s everything you do, or don’t do. When you show up, if you show up, what you say, what you don’t say, and even how you allocate your budget shapes your specific brand of leadership. All of your actions send messages. While these actions are especially relevant to leaders, they can also be applied to situations where you’re trying to change your boss’s perspective.

Ask yourself, and feel free to extend this question to trusted others as well, “What could I do that demonstrates that I am, in fact, the opposite of closed-minded?” An accompanying question would be, “What could I do or say when I can’t be flexible to help him understand why?” Sometimes it’s as simple as telegraphing your upcoming actions by alerting him to what’s going to happen before you do it.

You’ll also need to put more thought into what behaviors, if seen consistently, would change his current data stream. It may be helpful to think in terms of behaviors that involve sacrifices of time, ego, or even previous priorities.

While changing his mind will require some time and attention, if you’re deliberate about it, you can have much more influence in shaping your overall joint experience with your new boss.

Best of luck,
Steve

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Steve Willis

As one of the original trainers at VitalSmarts, Steve has been on the forefront of developing award-winning training programs, perfecting quality training platforms, and delivering training content that has influenced more than 500,000 people to date. In addition, Steve has trained and certified thousands of employees, managers, and trainers from Fortune 500 companies across the nation. read more

15 thoughts on “How to Change Someone’s Opinion of You”

  1. I advise that Steve prepare for and practice what he is going to say if he finds out that the boss doesn’t like it when the boss’s suggestions are treated like stone tablets from the mountain. I have worked for bosses that would not brook any recommends of change to their suggestions regardless of the reason. In reality it was the boss who had a closed mind and it resulted in me having a closed mouth. The result was that after being given “suggestions” to violate a requirement I had no choice but to move to a different department.

    1. I think people often forget they always have a choice as to how to respond–even when it’s leaving the job, or choosing to remain and deal with it. And I think most people revert to the “worst case scenario” strategy first.

  2. I would be interested in hearing what Steve’s experience is after he has this meeting with his new boss. My experience in the past few years has been that way too many people these days make it to the executive level, without realizing the importance of open and honest communication and feedback. In order for a team, department, or company to be successful, that feedback has to go both ways. Often, people seem to think that having a big title means they have nothing left to learn.

  3. What if your boss gives you feedback but refuses to give examples of when you engaged in this behavior? I’ve had this happen 2 times with the same manager. I’ve asked colleagues if I do what this manager says I’ve done and they say No. It’s so frustrating!

    1. Kim, I had the same experience. Feedback was vague, and when I keeping asking for examples I was told she couldn’t remember any. So I asked if she could give me immediate feedback if she observed the behavior. Low and behold no feedback.

  4. Eliminate the word ‘but’.
    I’ve found that many people accused of being closed mined are often the kind of people who frequently respond with a ‘Yes, but xxxx’ or even worse they don’t even show any agreement and go straight to ‘But, xxxx’

    I have seen incredible turnarounds by having them restructure what they say to remove the ‘but’, and always start with some kind of acknowledgement of the other person’s view. Such as ‘I can see what you are saying. My concerns are xxxx’ or ‘What you are saying makes a lot of sense. How will xxxx be incorporated into this approach?’

    Also, a little self depreciation goes a long way. ‘I don’t know if I have all the information to make an informed decision. Have you considered what to do about xxxx?

    Both of these techniques downplay the fact that there is a difference of opinion at all.

    Lastly, pick your battles. It is better to be involved with 10 successful activities where you’ve let others do things their way than to have 8 of them stalled because you are insisting that they be done your way.

      1. So far I have not seen politics brought into these posts.I know it may feel good to vent about a political situation but that isn’t really very helpful to the readers.

  5. Great thoughts. Having experienced it from both sides of the situation, I can tell you that this sentence below will put someone on the defensive right out of the gate,

    “I want to make sure we work well together, so I’d like to take time to really understand how you see our working relationship—especially your views about how open and/or closed-minded you believe I am.”

    Especially the “you believe” part. Remember “you” statements versus “I” statements. If you come at someone sounding like this, they won’t hear anything else you have to say.

    I would recommend the deferential route. Something more like,

    “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I’ve given a lot of thought to my recent review and I’d like to take some time to really understand how I can be a better asset to you and the team. For starters, I would never intentionally be close-minded. I think being accountable for various legal ramifications makes me very cautious and that can definitely be misconstrued as close-minded. Where I may think I’m doing what’s right for the company, others may think I’m just shutting them down. It occurred to me that I may not even realize I’m doing it. This is where I could really use your guidance. Any advice you could give me on a better way to contribute to the team or maybe some examples of ways I could have better communicated my position would be extremely helpful.”

    This is when he/she says they can’t think of an example – most bosses will not be able to on the spot, remember they’re juggling quite a few personalities and to be frank, they don’t think of you as much as you think they do. It’s not personal. Most people don’t think of us as much as we think they do. To repeatedly berate your boss for specifics is petty and borderline combative. So when your boss says he/she can’t think of an example, you say…

    “I completely understand, and I am working on being more aware of my actions. If you could possibly help me identify situations where I may not realize I’m doing this, privately of course, I would sincerely appreciate it.”

    This crucial conversation has demonstrated self-awareness and accountability, while putting the ball in your boss’ court to help guide you. There should be no surprises in your next review because if he/she comes back and says you’re being close-minded, he/she didn’t hold up their part of the agreement. As your boss and mentor, it is in their best interest to coach you into being the best asset you can be.

    Thoughts?

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