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How can your favourite colour win over stakeholders?


My favourite colour is blue. If, when I was a wee tyke, you’d asked me why, it’s likely I would have said: “… Because!”

Kids are pretty blunt and uncomplicated like that.

And yet we grow into professionals who use business jargon to explain why we do and don’t like something.

From an early age, part of development is learning to rationalise and justify; to explain why you have the opinion you do. Imagine if the answer to “What is your favourite colour?” was “Because I’m guided by deep unconscious processes I don’t fully understand that make me spontaneously reply ‘blue’”. It’s so much easier just to say “Because!”

In business terms, picture trying to justify an investment when one of your stakeholders doesn’t like what you’re proposing. Why? “Excessive costs, no funds available, risk to customer retention, incompatible with brand values….” All of these are valid reasons that may be cited. But really, why?

“Because!” may be the real answer. While the rational reasons have been stated, there’s a strong possibility that you’re actually dealing with something a little deeper.

Going with your gut

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the concept of thin slicing: “The ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience”; of recognising patterns and making snap judgments.

At an early age I made a snap judgment that blue was my favourite colour. Throughout my life I’ve stuck to it. In everyday language, we’re talking about “a gut feel”.

Gladwell sets out to convince his readers of three things:

  1. That decisions made quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately
  2. That when rapid cognition decisions go awry they do so for very specific reasons; and
  3. That snap decisions can be educated and controlled.

So, back to your stakeholder who’s made a snap judgment about your proposal. Look at it from their perspective: what patterns may they have seen that set them against proceeding? Sure, you can counter their rational concerns with facts and data — you may even (begrudgingly) get the signature. But what’s underneath the surface that might mean you have won over the head but not the heart?

Rest assured, there are ways to both unpick the unconscious motivations and guide them to your end — the hard part is taking the time to consider the thin slice, to answer the “Because!”, and to make sure that you can convince your stakeholder’s gut that it’s the right decision.

Bri Williams is a product development and consumer analytics professional who uses her blog, People Patterns, to explore behavioural insights and observations for marketers. Follow Bri at @peoplepatterns