Are you a smooth operator in the office?

If you are not, it´s something you can learn

At work, we sometimes spend hours preparing powerpoint presentations. Our aim: persuading someone to accept a proposal, often during an important meeting. That someone can be our boss, team, another department or a client.  

We work on our proposal with care, trying to create compelling arguments supported on good reasons to say yes. At last, the big day arrives and sometimes accompanied by nerves. When the meeting starts it all goes well and then suddenly someone makes a comment or asks a question that derails the presentation.  

Has this ever happened to you? It has to me, suddenly noticing that the mood in the room had changed and feeling as if I was in the lion´s cage. OMG!! 

In many occasions, the outcome is “cut and dried” before the meeting even started. Meetings can sometimes be a mere formality with the topic being discussed and agreed in advance. 

To many this may seem obvious but it took me a while to realise it. Once the penny dropped it had a lot of impact on my behaviour and my ability to push forward with initiatives that were beyond my department or direct control. 

The majority of things we want to do at work require the collaboration or authorisation so being able to build consensus is in my opinion part of the key to success. 

A practical way to do it, without dying in the process, has four steps: 

  1. Identify key people. Those with the power to make decisions, their confidants, people you think will be supportive or against the idea. It’s not about running a political campaign but it’s worth investing time and effort to ensure key people feel involved in the process and avoid surprises.  
  1. Have one to one conversations. Present your proposal as a draft awaiting their input that could help. Leave the conversation with the most influential person until last so you can benefit from useful points that may come from other people.   
  1. Adapt your proposal. Take into account the feedback received, they will help you improve either the proposal or the chances of success. It’s better to have success in a realistic proposal than to fail in a utopian or impractical proposal.  
  1. Present and inform. After steps one to three you can proceed with the presentation with confidence and the support of those key individuals. This will also help inform others who are affected by it albeit have a lower level of influence.  

This is what some people do naturally. People we label as smooth operators in office politics. But the rest of us, can learn, so go get it!  


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