The fastest way to make your priority someone elseโ€™s too


A perennial challenge in business is making your priority someone else’s priority too. You know the drill. You have a project that you are under pressure to complete, but it relies heavily on input from other people. Problem is, they have projects they are under pressure to complete and don’t want to divert time, energy or effort to your patch.

Here’s how to go about it.

  1. Minimise effort
  2. Maximise relevance

Minimising effort

Minimising effort means stripping back what you need from them to what is essential. Make sure:

  • It’s easy for them to get it FOR you.
  • It’s easy for them to get it TO you.

Pro tip 1: It can help to let them know what you don’t need them to do. “I can live without x but we really need y”, for example. This anchors them to a bigger ask before providing relief.

Pro tip 2: Use reciprocity to make them more likely to comply. In other words, tell them what you have already done. “I’ve already taken care of abc so all I need is xyz”.

The risk of making it too easy? They don’t think it’s important. That’s why you need to maximise relevance.

Maximise relevance

You’ll get nowhere fast if you fail to make your priority important to them. There needs to be shared ‘skin in the game’.

How do you know what’s important?

You need to know what their priorities, stated and unstated, are. What is their area of business for?  What motivates them and their work? You have to find a connection between their goals and yours.

Let’s say you are in finance and need something from the customer service team. Link your priority to what their team is there to do e.g. “processing paperwork in this way will save inbound calls from suppliers and free up your team’s time on the phones”.

If you have no luck finding common ground at this level of priorities, move up a level until you do. Here’s what I mean.

If you are starting at level 4 with a finance project priority and have no luck linking yours to the customer service objectives at level 3, move up to shared priorities for the whole business unit (level 2). No luck there? Move up to the whole of company priorities (level 1). No luck there? I’d question why you are working on your priority!

Remember, you are looking for a way to wrap your priority into theirs. Kind of like a “two birds, one stone” angle.

How do you communicate in a way that will resonate?

Knowing what to say is different to knowing how to say it. On paper it might seem like your priorities link to theirs, but how to convince them it is so?

Whenever you seek to influence someone’s behaviour, you have three goals:

  1. Getting them to bother (in my Behaviour Change Model that’s overcoming Apathy)
  2. Making sure they are clear on what they need to do and feel they can (overcoming decision Paralysis) and
  3. Giving them the confidence to act (addressing Anxiety)

Now, I could go into a deep discussion about these considerations, but that would make this the detailed way to get people to share your priorities, not the fastest way!

Instead, let’s explore how personality profiles like DiSC can help. Where behavioural economics is a great way to understand how humans are wired to make decisions (the heuristics we use to navigate our world), personality profiles help with how to best frame your message for an individual.

High Dominance

To convince someone who is results-driven and competitive (D) that your priority should be theirs, you’ll need to have them see the upside for their patch. How will it help them reach their goals? How does it stem from an idea that they had? With these types, be quick to the point. A punchy email or short, sharp meeting in a formal environment (their office or the boardroom) might be best.

Use language along the lines of: “I know you are working on xyz. I believe I have a way we can help. Can I run it past you quickly before your team meeting on Tuesday?”

High Influence

For someone who loves building their profile but may be more ‘talk than walk’ (I), seek ways of making them the face of the project and invite them to sing its praises. A face to face discussion where you focus on how the project will create gains for the business is probably best. Less detail, more outcome oriented. Once they have agreed in principle, get them to delegate the nuts and bolts so you get what you need.

Use language along the lines of: “We’re kicking off a high-profile project that I think would be great for your team to be across. Can I run you through a few of the ideas?”

High Conscientiousness

Analytical types who love getting into the detail (C) will want information from you and time to reflect before making a decision. They’ll tend to veer to the problem state of prioritising your work over their tasks, so best to get them sharing ideas about the problem you are trying to solve. By tapping their expertise, you will build their buy-in. A “problem solving” brainstorm might be a good way to start.

Use language along the lines of: “I know you have a lot of expertise in “y” so I was hoping to share with you our plans to…and get your input”.

High Steadiness

To engage the rocks of the organisation (S), your focus should be on their helpfulness. Here you will want to emphasise that things are in motion, the project is happening, but there is risk if they don’t contribute. A well-worded email can work wonders here, being sure to signal urgency so they don’t procrastinate.

Use language along the lines of:  “Hi , Seeking your help. We are currently…and the team suggested you would be great to speak with…”

Getting someone on board to prioritise your work over theirs is never easy.  Central to your endeavour is coming at it from their point of view. Minimise effort and maximise relevance and you'll give yourself the best chance of success.


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