During a meeting with my peers and leadership I presented a recommendation that made perfect sense to me. It seemed like a no-brainer because I made a clear case for it and it fit nicely into the puzzle we were trying to solve. I expected everyone to agree with me, but that’s not what happened. My idea fell awkwardly flat. The kind of flat that left me considering how to help everyone save face.
What went wrong you might ask? It became sorely clear to me that I did not consider the emotional relevance of what I was requesting. Without going into detail, I can tell you that my suggestion would have impacted another team by taking work away from them and giving it to another team. Because my suggestion was rationally thought out, I assumed everyone would be agreeable. What I didn’t consider is that the team that owns the work is invested in it and that they have a deeper appreciation for it because they are the doers while I am a spectator.
I read in a study that people are loss averse and that this is demonstrated in the endowment effect. When an item is owned by a person, he tends to value it more, simply because he owns it. In other words, he may think a coffee mug is worth $2 before buying it, but after owning it, he may not part with it for less than $5. There are a lot of hypothesis for this behavior, and my suspicion is that it relates to the emotional investment. When you own something, you take on the responsibility to care for and maintain it. Plus memories become associated with it. Also if it’s an item that you put time and energy into, you probably take pride in it.
Had I thought about this, I may not have made the recommendation as I did and I definitely would not have made it as nonchalantly as I did. It was inconsiderate and, in the end, I felt lousy about the whole thing. But there is a silver lining. I’ve learned that when I walk out of a meeting with that lousy feeling, it’s a clear sign to contemplate what I can do better next time.
From this experience I learned the following.
- Once I form a recommendation, determine who could be affected by it. Then attempt to imagine what it will be like for them to hear the recommendation. Will they see value or loss? Can there be a compromise or trade? What parts of the recommendation could trigger a bad reaction?
- Then consider how non-affected partners will perceive it. Are any of them close to the affected parties? Will they be agreeable and lend you support? Or will they be opposed? Would they feel favoritism is at play?
- Start making calls. Get on the phone and put the idea out there. Try to understand what others want so that you can tweak your suggestions. In other words lobby your position and negotiate behind the scenes.
Had I done these things, I may have made a different recommendation that would still give me what I care about most about while reducing the risk of alienating anyone.