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Take a walk in their shoes

A key to success in communicating about change is to know as much as you can about what others are feeling and thinking. So take a walk in their shoes.
 
There’s probably a gap between your views and what’s on the minds of the people you are trying to reach. What matters to you may not matter to them, and how they think about things is probably not how you think about things. So you have to try to bridge that gap, and get through to people on their terms.
 
It takes a fight with yourself to keep that fixed in your mind as you prepare and as you communicate. It helps if you are empathetic by nature. If so, channel that and make sure you get the most out of your natural tendency. If not, you will have to try to bridge this gap intellectually, by preparation and by keeping open the question on behalf of others, “what’s in it for me?” Ask that question, and answer it honestly, not from your point of view, but from the point of view of others who are key stakeholders.
 
It may be that your instinct in hearing about others’ reactions to things is to think, at worst: “those idiots!” and at best: “those poor, misguided souls.” Neither thought helps the cause of getting ideas about change through to people. Instead, you have to take at face value—as a fact—whatever reaction people have. You have to work with that, not deny it or argue with it. It is part of the system you are dealing with, you won’t change it by dismissing it, and probably won’t by fighting against it. You need to accommodate it.
 
Also, as I’ve written in earlier posts, you won’t always change people’s minds with a technical, factual argument. You often have to find an argument that works for them, not for you, and it may be an emotional one. Chances are, you have a technical knowledge-base on the question at hand, but don’t assume your knowledge will be effective in changing people’s minds. What’s in their hearts? What are their hopes and fears? Find out! You can be much more effective if you know what you can about that.
 
See also “Getting to know the anti-you” on finding people who are distinctly different from you that can help you take a fresh perspective.
 
Also, my Leading Futurists LLC colleague Jennifer Jarratt and I co-authored an essay recently on "Reframing the Future" that elaborates on the importance of understanding what is in people’s minds as you try to get them to explore the future.
 
Image: Sabrina Campagna, cc license, via Flickr
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