When I started my career, I was full of crazy, innovative ideas which were routinely shot down by senior managers. I grew to hate the expressions, “That isn’t how we do things here” or “We tried that and it didn’t work.” Nothing shut down a conversation or a brainstorming session faster than one of these phrases.

When I left corporate, I assumed I was leaving that negative energy behind. Unfortunately, resistance to change, a hesitance to try something new, or an unwillingness to  consider the fault for a failure lay in the execution, not the idea, is human nature. It runs across age and gender lines, and I hear these expressions as frequently among small business owners and employees as I do among jaded corporate types.

I haven’t changed; I still have a lot of crazy, often half-baked ideas which I toss out, but when I hear these “killer phrases,”  I try to use one of the following responses to keep the conversation going.

When someone says, That isn’t how we do things here,” I have found the best response is to simply ask why? It’s sometimes hard to do, because I have to ask the question without sarcasm or edge in my voice, while in my head I’m screaming, “ARE YOU KIDDING???” But if I can do that, then pause and let the other person talk, it opens the conversation up. If I follow up with questions about what they are doing now and how well those solutions are working, it’s easier to get them to circle back around to the new idea with a more open-minded attitude. There is no promise they will love my idea, but at least they will be more open to considering other ideas.

The more interesting and productive conversations come when I push back against the statement, “We tried that and it didn’t work.”  Things change, and what worked or didn’t work a week, month or year ago may have a very different result this time.  What seems to work best is for me to use one or more of the following questions:

    • Why do you think it didn’t work?
    • How long did you try?
    • Has anything in your company changed since you tried it?
    • Has anything in your marketing changed since you tried it?
    • If you were going to do it again, what would you do differently?
    • What did you learn from the experience that we could use when we try something else?

The trick is to get them talking, shifting them from from resistance mode to brainstorming mode. What do you do when you run into resistance, fear or an unwillingness to change?