Second, stakeholders will be looking to you to project certainty and thereby diminish their worry that the costs they will pay might not be worthwhile. Empathizing with your opponents might lead you to ask yourself, “Am I really doing the right thing?” If you start doubting your cause, you may end up revising your plan or even abandoning it, or undermining the confidence of some allies.
So why force yourself to spend time with your resisters? First, you will never seem as evil in person as you can be in people’s imagination. Simply spending time in their presence can help take the edge off their hostility and thus soften their determination to block your efforts. For just this reason, when Marty [Linksy] was advising clients on media relations, he always encouraged people to accept invitations to go on hostile talk-radio shows or speak before opposition audiences.
There is another reason to make yourself spend time with resisters: by meeting with them, you can acknowledge the sacrifices you are asking them to make and how difficult and painful those sacrifices may be. For some people, that is all they need to hear in order to begin feeling less hostile toward you and your idea. Some may actually become supporters, while others may at least tone down their opposition.
Finally, spending time with the opposition enables you to assess firsthand how much pressure they feel from your initiative. You can then calibrate your tactics accordingly. For example, suppose you meet with union officials to discuss a cost-saving initiative that would require greater employee contributions to their generous health benefit plan. Watching body language and nonverbal cues in informal conversations might well give you information that you could not get in a more formal setting to indicate the importance to the membership of maintaining the current benefit as compared to other potential cost-cutting measures.
— Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Press. Excerpt from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Copyright 2009 Cambridge Leadership Associates. All rights reserved.