Ad Florem Blog

If you keep hearing ‘no’, try a different approach


Ad Florem Blog Post

When negotiating or entering discussions in the workplace, it’s easy to talk about what energises and excites you rather than trying to frame the discussion from another’s point of view. If the answer you get most is ‘no’, talking about what is most important to the other person may improve your chances of a positive response.

This recently happened to one of my clients, who supports another organisation on a regular basis. During a recent coaching session he reported feeling frustrated because his suggestions weren’t being taken on board by the senior leader of the organisation.

My client was supporting a staff member returning from a leave of absence relating to her mental health. As part of her return to work meeting, the staff member reported how no one appeared to speak to her or ask how she was feeling. She felt isolated because no one knew what to say, unlike with physical injuries where people might comment on the plaster coming off, or ask if they’re ready to go back to the gym.

The team member’s isolation was raised at the next team meeting, and the team decided it would be a great opportunity to learn more about mental health, and how to support others in the future. The team were keen to progress this, so my client presented it to the senior leader of the organisation, in anticipation of getting the proposal signed off.

But the senior leader argued that it wasn’t needed, there was no budget, and staff would need to attend in their own time, so no one would come. They dismissed the proposal, and moved onto the next agenda item.

My client was disappointed but not surprised. This wasn’t the first time his suggestions had been overruled by the senior leader.

Getting to ‘yes’

In our coaching session, we reflected on this situation, exploring how my client had approached the request, including his choice of language, what he was thinking and feeling at the time. Most importantly, we looked at the senior leader’s perspective, and the response my client expected to get.

We considered questions such as:

  • What was the other person’s expectation of the meeting?
  • How did you expect the meeting to turn out?
  • What were you thinking / feeling before you had the conversation?
  • When you were talking, what got them energised?
  • What made them uncomfortable / frustrated them / switched them off?

As we continued our conversation, my client realised what he’d done wrong.

Speaking from his position of responsibility for the team, he had presented a case for supporting the team members’ wellbeing when what really energised the senior leader was data around improving attendance and sickness absence. He also realised he had gone into the meeting thinking they would say no, as they had previously done.

With this realisation, my client decided to go back to speak with the senior leader, and present the data around how mental health directly impacted on the attendance and sickness absence figures; and show how the mental health awareness sessions would improve these.

By reflecting on what energised the senior leader, my client had started to ‘talk their language’ which allowed him to present a more convincing case. By using the facts and figures that were meaningful to the other person, he increased his chances of getting his proposal approved.