Ever feel like your team is simply placating you?  Telling you what you want to hear?

That’s because they probably are.

Sometimes it can simply look like a lack of responsiveness or sound like crickets – where you ask for your team’s input, feedback and suggestions and you get zilch (except from that one team member who always speaks up.)

There’s something that’s not being said – that they’re not saying out loud…it often looks like one of two flavors: fear or apathy.

Either fear:

  • I don’t want to step on any toes.
  • I don’t want to sound stupid.
  • I’m terrified to speak up in a group setting.

Or apathy:

  • Good luck with that!
  • We’ve tried that before.
  • It’s doesn’t matter what I have to say anyway.

Unfortunately when leaders don’t know how to get buy in from employees, and they’re really excited about a new initiative, they often try to force an outcome.  This is death for getting employees to buy in.

Here’s how to get buy in from employees in the face of fear and apathy:

  1. Share the journey of your thinking. Share with them your thought-process, the different options you considered and why you think this is the best one.
  2. Frame questions that illicit a real response. Rather than asking “What does everyone think?” ask: “What works and doesn’t work about this solution/initiative/option? or “What opportunities or challenges do you see that I don’t see?”
  3. Do a round robin. Instead of asking the group what they think, take some time and go from person to person and request they share their thoughts, questions and concerns. In a group setting, many people are more comfortable when given a designated speaking opportunity.
  4. Be vulnerable and share your humanity. Let people know you’re simply trying to come up with the best solution and that you’re fallible – that’s why you have a team – because you’re better together!  Let them know you count on them to point out your blind spots, share their concerns and highlight opportunities.
  5. Really address concerns. Don’t brush them off.  Don’t avoid them.  Go straight towards them and dig in.  Until you address concerns, you will not get buy-in.
  6. Encourage vulnerability. Similarly, thank people when they share concerns. Remember, for many people, to share their apprehension is to be vulnerable.  Honor that vulnerability and courage by taking concerns seriously.
  7. Don’t be attached. Make sure you’re not attached to your solution such that your body language screams when someone questions its validity. Your team will never speak up again.  Instead, consider saying, “Good point and thank you for bringing that up.”

Don’t ever let fear or apathy undermine any more of your new ideas.  Share your thinking, share your humanity while creating a psychologically safe space for your team to share what needs to be worked through to get on board.


Team Building/Culture Building Activity:

How to REALLY know if your team is on board and committed:

Next time you’re looking how to get buy in from employees, consider one of the following two exercises in a team setting. Both of these exercises accomplish the following: a) peer witnessing of co-workers’ commitments or concerns and b) physical, undeniable, demonstration of being in or out. There’s no option to be wishy washy or pretend you’re on board if you’re not.

1.) Roman thumb

  • All those in favor, thumb up.
  • All those on board with concerns or hesitations – thumb sideways.
  • All of those against – clear that this idea will actually hurt the organization – thumb down and share other possible solutions.

Then specifically address the concerns in the space regarding the thumbs that are sideways and down.  This is one of the easiest ways to move conversations forward in meetings.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean you’re looking to get consensus.  That’s a whole ‘nother conversation regarding decision-making.

2.) Stand up and deliver*

Ask everyone in the room, if they’re on board, please stand up.*

Then coming from a place of curiosity and wonderment, specifically ask those who are still sitting – “what’s there for you?” or “tell me more.”

*Of course, be thoughtful about anyone on your team who is unable to stand – can change to raising hands.