Whether we are dealing with our own teams or key stakeholders, to be successful in change and transformation, we need be to skilled at knowing how to win buy-in, which means getting through to people and causing them to do something different or think about something in a different way.

While our own reasons for wanting people to act or think differently might seem concrete to us, other people have their own reasons instilled in their hearts and minds about why they should or should not do or think as we want them to. People have their own needs, desires and agendas. Sometimes they have secrets they're hiding from us, or they're stressed, busy and often feel like they're in over their heads (but only they know it). They throw up mental barriers in an effort to cope, making your goal of reaching them so much more difficult.

Threats, bully tactics and aggression are poor solutions normally used by people who have not yet developed their interpersonal skills sufficiently to perform their role in a professional and ethical manner. Sometimes these unethical tactics are a last resort when managers or leaders don't know what else they can do. But such action is almost always followed by negative consequences in one way or another.

It’s sometimes difficult to get through to people when you need their support. Even after you've spent considerable time and effort putting together a solid case with good data, people still don’t “see things your way”. That can be hard to understand and demoralising as you sit there shaking your head in disbelief, not knowing what to ethically do next. After all, you’re just trying to do your job and make good things happen - right?

The Persuasion Cycle

Mark Goulston is a psychiatrist, business consultant, executive coach, and hostage-negotiation trainer for the FBI. He was inspired to develop "The Persuasion Cycle" by the “Transtheoretical Model of Change” (J. Prochaska & C. Di Clemente) and “Motivational Interviewing” (S. Rollnick). Mark described the persuasion cycle in his best selling book, “Just Listen”.

Mark recommends that we work through five stages to persuade others to our point of view.

  1. From resisting to listening
  2. From listening to considering
  3. From considering to willing to do
  4. From willing to do to doing
  5. From doing to glad they did and continuing to do.

Whether we are seeking team or senior stakeholder support, few will argue that we need their buy-in. This is very simply stated, but difficult for many to achieve, which is why Mark’s cycle to winning buy-in can help so many managers and leaders in organisations when engaging with stakeholders.

Mark adds; "buy-in occurs when people move from 'resisting' to 'listening' to 'considering' what you're saying. Ironically, they key to gaining 'buy-in' and then moving people through the rest of the cycle is not what you tell them, but what you get them to tell you - and what happens in their minds in the process".

Nine Core Rules to Win Buy-in

After some background theory about the brain and its operation, in his book, Mark goes on to describe the nine core rules for getting through to anyone.

  1. Move Yourself from “Oh F#@& to OK” in a five step process
  2. Rewire Yourself to Listen
  3. Make the Other Person Feel “Felt”
  4. Be More Interested Than Interesting
  5. Make People Feel Valuable
  6. Help People to Exhale Emotionally and Mentally
  7. Check Your Dissonance at the Door
  8. When All Seems Lost-Bare Your Neck
  9. Steer Clear of Toxic People

The Twelve Ways to Achieve Buy-In

Mark then gives readers 12 powerful tools for moving people through the Persuasion Cycle, which, if incorporated into your communication arsenal, will help you get through to people and gain their support.

  1. Move a person from listening to considering-and from “Yes . . . but” to “Yes!”
  2. Shift another person from resistance to listening-from “nobody understands” to “you understand.”
  3. Transition a person from resisting to “willing to do” in a single step, by changing the dynamics of a relationship.
  4. Move a resistant underachiever all the way to the “willing to do” stage by creating empathy.
  5. Move a person who’s “over the top” from resistance to listening by lowering the person’s anger or fear.
  6. Calm a person who’s upset or angry, moving them from resisting to listening, then from listening to considering.
  7. Move a person from considering to “willing to do” by neutralizing your weak points.
  8. Move a person from considering to “willing to do” by transforming a relationship from impersonal to personal.
  9. Lower another person’s guard and move the person from resistance to listening.
  10. Move a person to the “willing to do” stage by making the person feel felt and understood.
  11. Move a person rapidly through every phase of the Persuasion Cycle from resistance to “doing,” by creating agreement where none exists.
  12. Move a person from “doing” to “glad they did” and “continuing to do” by using the Power Thank You, or from resistance to listening with the Power Apology.

Fast Fixes

The book finally goes on to describe "Fast Fixes" for challenging but common situations such as:

  • The team from hell
  • You're a stranger in town
  • The disgruntled employee who goes berserk

In Summary

Mark Goulston’s book “Just Listen” is a compelling read for anyone who must interact with people. In the professional arena, no project or programme manager, director or executive should be going about their task of influencing others without at least a basic understanding of Mark’s cycle of persuasion, nine core rules and twelve ways to achieve buy-in.

About Mark Goulston, M.D. (author of Just Listen)

Mark Goulston is a psychiatrist, business consultant, executive coach, and a hostage-negotiation trainer for the FBI. A bestselling author whose books include Get Out of Your Own Way and Get Out of Your Own Way at Work, he writes a column on leadership for Fast Company as well as a syndicated column, “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark, for Tribune Media Services.

Read the about page of his web site