How to Win Over Opposition and Gain Traction


Sometimes you have the best intentions, but gaining traction with your boss, employees, and agencies can be hard. Here are five tips I regularly use both in the public and private sectors to win over my opposition and gain traction.

  1. Connect by defining the basic problem

What is the real issue or outcome you are trying to improve? Doing a big data project on a social issue like infant mortality is not about the data or technology. It’s about people. It’s about saving lives. If you dive into the weeds before you win over your audience or opposition, you may hit a hot button: a program that is a person’s passion project, a stat that some view as absolute fact but you disagree with, or even the way things have always been done. Your focus needs to remain on the issue you all can agree on that needs changed or improved. In this example – saving babies. When rabbit holes form or disagreement occurs, steer the conversation back to the basics.

  1. Check your attitude

It’s not about you. It’s really easy to be convinced your idea is a great one and think, “Why in the world would anyone disagree with this; it will improve lives and save money?” Let me tell you from experience, even if your idea is great, change is hard. People are naturally territorial and defensive, especially if they are passionate about what they do. If you go into a meeting with all of the reasons of why a problem is not getting fixed and what they could do better, you have just set yourself up for failure. Instead, find a positive change they made and talk about it.

For all of you women out there, you’ve mastered this skill with your significant others. Say positive/encouraging things and then if needed, get them to believe the idea was theirs. This is about getting traction for your proposal. It’s not about you.

  1. Break it down with relatable examples

You want to be relatable and make your proposal clear. I grew up working in a family-owned hardware store. I constantly draw from this experience when talking with others especially when it comes to data or technology – a topic that can be very intimidating and polarizing for a lot of people. One of the first projects I worked on in government dealt with business intelligence on basic government functions.

To do this, we needed agencies’ buy in and support for data sharing. Getting agencies to understand the “why” wasn’t easy, but when I explained real life examples in every day business it started to connect. Every day my father logs into his dashboard to view simple red or green arrows, which indicate trends. By this simple visualization, he can assess what departments are doing well, customer traffic, and financials all within seconds. He can make an action plan in real time to address problems before they get so severe he is in crisis management mode.

“Crisis management mode” – sound familiar? It’s easy to apply this concept to government operations. How can we expect agencies to innovate or solve problems if they can’t identify the problem until it’s too late? This is where basic business intelligence comes into play and why it’s so important.

  1. Make “Googling” [or Bing] a Habit

I cannot emphasize this enough: do background research to prep. This does not need to consume your day or take up hours on end. A simple search can help provide context. My husband will tell you the first thing I do when a topic, person, or organization comes up that I know nothing about – I “google” it. Google or Bing will give you a snapshot of your opposition or audience by providing recent tweets, news articles, definitions, and webpages. Use this information to identify successes, pain points, competition, similarities, and opportunities for synergies.

  1. Create a list of commonly asked questions and arguments against your idea

To win over opposition or any audience, you must anticipate the questions that are going to be asked or arguments against your proposal. Your list of reasons why your solution is the best thing since sliced bread does not matter if you cannot answer simple questions that poke holes in your idea. You want to address those questions before they have the chance to ask them.

These 5 tips are things can be used for all types of meetings: informally pitching an idea to your boss, preparing presentations for multi-organizational meetings, or planning a town hall with state agencies on a huge technology initiative.

Sara Marshall is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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