4 Strategies to Help a Zealot. #1 is the Hardest, but Best for You in the Long Run

A few months ago, I presented the concept of zealots and opinion leaders at the CITA BIM conference in Dublin. Shortly after that, I received a note from a conference attendee:
I am starting the journey you have taken with Tocci and hope to achieve [great things]... but unfortunately I’m a zealot too and I hope this won’t delay my journey too much.
Oh my, there is so much to unpack here. Let's start with some context for what a zealot is.
A few years ago, I attended a presentation on Behavioral PR. At the time, I wrote about how it reminded me of change management. One Behavioral PR strategy assigns individuals to a spectrum based on where they stand on a particular issue and idea.

The Zealots

On one side, people are zealots against the idea - about 10% of people. On the other side, people are zealots for the idea - another 10% of people. Zealots, on either side, are passionate. They believe. They know the details. However, they can be so strongly tied to 'their side' that they aren't able to see other opinions. Often times, that means they don't effectively persuade others to 'their side'.

The Opinion Leaders

The 8% in the middle of a population is considered an opinion leader on an issue. Opinion leaders may not be neutral to idea, but they are open to discussion and willing to change their opinion. Moreover, since they are 'opinion leaders', those individuals have the ability to sway the rest of the population. In the context of BIM, an opinion leader could be a more innovative and open minded project manager, superintendent, or cost engineer.

What if I'm a Zealot

Before we talk strategies, I have to admit something that won't be a surprise for frequent readers. On many topics, I am a Zealot. Here are a few of the things that I have used to 'overcome' my BIM zealotry. I don't do them well all the time, but when I do...it works.
  1. Listen. Hear out people's concerns and comments. Listen without judging them or defending yourself. Be open to discussion without trying to convince them. If you aren't a naturally strong listener, this will take time to both practice and undo past behavior. Listening is a key characteristic of opinion leaders, so you may want to read about and test out some of 99u's suggestions for good listening.
  2. Pretend you don't believe. This step is in your head. Before you start to share ideas with others, pretend that you don't believe. If you didn't believe, what problems or challenges would you see? Once you identify those things, figure out a solution. And don't shy away from them when you share your thoughts. Try saying something like, "While I was exploring this, I started to be concerned that ________________." Then, you can share the solution you discovered to their concern.
  3. Identify 'jobs-to-be-done'. This strategy is perfect for a quick(er) win. Rather than trying to convince others of your solution, identify problems that you can solve. Innosight, an innovation consulting firm, uses this to help companies develop external products and services. You can use it develop your own 'products and services'.
  4. Partner with an opinion leader. If all else fails, identify who the natural opinion leaders are. Using the techniques described above, work with them to understand the value - as well as their unique role in its success.
With these four strategies, you might define a very powerful new spot on the spectrum: the zealot/opinion leader hybrid.

Have you ever wondered if you are the most effective person to promote collaboration or new process within your organization? What strategies have you used to overcome your personal zealotry?

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