Grappling with pushback

Grappling with pushback

When you’re hard at work on ambitious projects, it’s a given that the team is pushing the boundaries of what would have been considered sensible. I choose those words carefully – “would have”, because these projects are always about ways forward but are often judged on references back; and “sensible” because that’s the filter that so many people put across the recommendations they get.

Do they seem sensible – to them? Which means, in reality, do they feel comfortable? Which means, how much do the measures being proposed feel like what has occurred historically?

Pushback follows an equally predictable line of escalation. “That’s interesting” will be followed by “but”. In time, this will probably become “We have some concerns”.

Then it will go one of these ways. The first will be “We need to do more research to ensure this will work” (that’s actually the positive line), or else “We’re not sure we’re ready for this”. Or there will be a request to “tone things down a little”.

Pushback is a flattener. It’s demoralising, it’s trivialising and it often feels petty given what’s being picked up on vs the issues that are being tackled.

The temptation of course is just to offer up airline-meal quality work in the first place because you can’t be bothered fighting and lobbying. (It’s their company after all.) But then you have to live with the fact that you simply have not done your best by your client or yourself.

To embrace a new idea, people must abandon what they previously held as true.

Here’s a gorgeous quote from Nancy Duarte for those days when giving it your all might not seem worth it. “Some [people] will oppose your ideas or look for holes in your argument because if they don’t, they’re either forced to live with the contradiction between their old perspective and the new one you’ve “sold” them, or opt to change.” In other words, they’re pushing back because it’s easier for them than pushing forward.

The way I like to look at it is this. If you don’t show every client the sea, they have no reason to admit, even to themselves, that they’re actually scared of the water. And on the odd occasion, you might just be able to tempt them to take a plunge, albeit between the flags.


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