Recently I was on LinkedIn and saw a question about overcoming youth and/or inexperience in business. When I think I can add to a conversation I’ll usually chime in and did so in this case.
The person who was seeking guidance was fresh out of college and decided to pursue her master’s degree while working full time in a managerial role. Because of her age and inexperience she ran into resistance to her ideas and suggestions. She said it got so bad they brought in a more experienced professional who told the staff exactly what she’d been saying all along. She recognized those same suggestions carried more weight coming from the experienced professional. Bottom line, she wanted to know how young, or inexperienced, managers can overcome the lack of trust and respect from older, more experienced coworkers.
The scenario is a familiar one and perhaps one you’ve faced it or might in the future. With that thought in mind, I decided to share with you the advice I gave to this young lady on LinkedIn.
The good news is, there are several ways to potentially youth or inexperience. The first comes from Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to persuasion and according to his research the principle of authority is what’s needed here if you want to gain traction for your ideas and suggestions.
This principle of influence tells us people will defer to those with superior wisdom or expertise when making decisions. That’s because we generally feel more confident when an authority tells us something. In order to be seen as an authority you need two traits: trust and credibility.
Trust comes from being the kind of person who keeps your word. When you consistently do what you say people believe you. That belief extended into the future is trust.
Credibility is established when you show you know what you’re doing. Credibility can come from your own expertise or you can borrow it. When you’re young or inexperienced you probably won’t be seen as an expert so the next best thing is borrowing expertise by citing sources. When you share ideas, cite people who are experts who believe in the same approach. You should also share research that backs up your suggestions about what should be done. Quite often those two things – trust and credibility – can be the difference between buy-in or rejection of your ideas.
A second approach comes from Focus 3, a leadership firm. Focus 3 views trust as the foundation to getting results in business. In their view trust is comprised of three things: connection, competence and character. All three are necessary for trust and strength in one area won’t necessarily make up for weakness in another area.
Character, as already noted, is being someone who can be counted on to be a person of integrity. Do you keep your word? Do you act consistently with people? Are you believable? The good news is being a person of character is simply a choice you make to do what you say you’ll do.
Connection is the relationship you have with people and it’s a two-way street. The more people know and like you the more they’ll respond positively to you. When people know you like them they naturally assume you’ll have their best interests at heart which make is even easier for them to do what you ask. Cialdini calls this the principle of liking.
Competence is your ability to make others better and provide the help they need. This doesn’t mean you’re better than the people you manage. On the contrary, those you lead are probably much better at their job than you would be if you did it and that’s okay! As a leader your primary role is to take what you know and use it to help make your team better.
Mastery of character, connection and competence will help you gain the trust you need to lead a team.
Finally, address your age or inexperience quickly. You might say, “I know I’m new here but I see that as an advantage because I’m not constrained by how things have always been done.”
Another approach might be, “I know some of you are looking at me wondering what someone like me can bring to the table because I’m young. There are certainly things I won’t know but something that I’ve learned is that many great ideas have come from people while they were young because they saw things from a fresh perspective. Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are great examples.”
The point in addressing age or experience is to acknowledge it early, then transition with a word like “but” or “however” into your strengths. Doing so gains you credibility because you’re seen as trustworthy when you own up to weakness. The good news is people usually forget what comes before “but” and that keeps them more focused on your strengths and how you can help them.
Persuasion isn’t a magic wand. Doing what I’ve listed above is no guarantee everyone who reports to you will overlook your youth or inexperience and fall in line. But, I’m confident you’ll see more people give you the trust and respect you’re looking for because decades of research show that to be the case with the approaches I’ve outlined.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director at State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 125,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.