A bias to yes or a bias to no?

I’m sitting with Susan in a cafe, and we’re doing some planning for an upcoming conference. Susan, my client, is a fairly senior manager in her business. Suddenly, her phone rings. “Sorry,” she says to me, and looks at the screen. She quickly identifies the caller, rolls her eyes, and turns the phone face-down onto the table. “No thank you,” she says, as if she’s speaking to the rejected caller, with a deep sigh.

Bad news?” I ask.
No idea. He’s hard work, that’s all.
Whatever it is, he’s made a good start then,” I quip.
I know. Terrible, isn’t it. What’s worse is I have to work with him all the time.

Oh dear. I’ve got no idea who was on the end of Susan's phone (although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me, thank goodness). But what I do know is that he’s starting from way behind if he’s hoping to get Susan to cooperate with him on anything.

Our reputations precede us. So here’s my question: does your reputation create a ‘bias to yes’ or a ‘bias to no’ in others? When your key stakeholders – the people whose cooperation you depend on to get things done - see your name pop up on their phones, or in their inbox, do they feel inclined to help, or to run in the opposite direction?

Now that question is a tad unfair, because I’m asking you to second-guess what others might feel or think about you. So don’t worry too much about the answer; but do think about how you can best foster a ‘bias to yes’ in your stakeholder relationships. Here’s a few questions you might like to think through in the context of one or more of those relationships:

  1. What’s your intent? How do you want others to experience you? What are the two or three words you’d like them to use to describe you if I bumped into them in the street? Do those intended perceptions support your ability to influence and generate buy-in?
  2. How do you measure up? How well do the things you do and say align with that intent? Are there things you are doing – perhaps with the best of intentions – that risk undermining your desired reputation? Now this question may push you to the boundaries of your own self-awareness, but it’s a good place to start to be on the lookout for a disconnect, especially now that you’ve got clear about your intent. What are one or two things you can do to create greater alignment?
  3. Do you make them look good? Reflecting on my days as a performer in improvised comedy, one of the principles we lived by was make your partner look good. I think there’s gold in this for anyone who wants to build a strong collaborative relationship. And it’s a good test to apply to every interaction you have. It’s pretty simple: if you don’t make your stakeholder look good, they probably won’t want to work with you.

(Oh, and if you happen to work with someone called Susan and you think she might have been meeting with me recently, please don't worry: it wasn't you on the phone. I've mashed up lots of the real details so everyone can remain happily anonymous.)

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – so please leave your comments below.


PS. For my song of the month, this one seems pretty relevant. Thanks, MJ.

PPS. Thanks to Visionello for the image used in this month's post.