How to Prepare for Pushback

Throughout my life I’ve received a lot of push back.  Most parents would have been ecstatic about their daughter asking for money to go to debate camp in high school instead of spending it on cars and clothes, but my parents were different.  I had to convince them it was worthwhile, and I did so by explaining how it would prepare me for college.

Then when I got to engineering school, more push back.  I wanted to implement things one way, my peers another.  Turns out we were all right, and I learned about trade-offs.

At my first startup once again lots of push back.  This time from everyone and all at once!  The marketing team, business development, and product team all had their opinions of what should be done, and they all had their restrictions on what they would do.

Boy did I get tired from receiving constant push back!  But that didn’t make me complacent.  I just learned to take some distance, then I put myself in the other person’s position, and came up with a formula for dealing with push back.  Instead of fighting it I just embraced it.

In every meeting I expect people to shoot down my idea, and told myself “That’s OK.”  To avoid getting shot down badly I do just 3 things:

  • Formulate the pitch: why I think something is a good idea and easy to do.
  • List the benefits to get buy-in: how I think it will benefit everyone at the table.
  • Consequence of inaction: what will happen if the idea doesn’t get executed.

I keep my wording very simple so that everyone understands what I’m after and there is no angle, and I make sure to do a bite-sized sale i.e. something that is manageable and doesn’t require an immediate change in behavior.  I’m essentially, pushing the project forward slowly.

But even if you do these 3 things you’ll still hear some squawks, and that’s normal.  I call that positive push back.  It’s when bright people aren’t avoiding doing work, but bringing up concerns.  Listen to their concerns, acknowledge them, and factor them into decision making.

The key is to deal with push back by talking about it over time.  You’ll know when you’re not handling the situation correctly if you arrive at a stalemate, or foster apathy in a team that ultimately just leads to people giving in, including yourself!

So realize that push back is normal when you deal with people who come to the table with different experiences.  The key is to get some level of buy-in, which takes  patience, persuasion, and perseverance!

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  1. Frances Advincula 14 December, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Great timing on this article. I had to pushback on the UX team for some of the work I’m doing. Before going into the meeting, I used your 3 points to best prepare my pitch. It worked wonderfully! I was able to fine tune my thought and process and enter the meeting more confidently.

  2. Poornima 14 December, 2012 at 10:32 am

    That is great to hear Frances! How did the group react?

  3. Frances Advincula 14 December, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    They took it very well, after understanding why the engineering team doesn’t want to build it that way (thanks to your 3 tips). I think also, since I was more junior than all of them, the key was to ask them a lot of questions…a lot of why’s. I think that forced them to think about their choice out loud — and that really helped both sides understand each other. Thank you again for such a wonderful post!

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