To gain cooperation from your team, do as Socrates would do. Get them to say “yes” first.

Socrates, one of history’s most persuasive thinkers, didn’t win people over to his side by telling them they were wrong. When he and his opponent disagreed, he listened and started by asking questions that would elicit a “yes” response. He understood the human need to be consistent, and that the word “no” only serves to strengthen opposition. He knew that once it is uttered, the word “no” becomes almost an insurmountable hill to climb when seeking cooperation.

As a leader, your relationship with your subordinates is inherently adversarial. You will encounter friction to your ideas that naturally accompanies the Principal-Agent Problem, simply because you and your people may be working towards two different sets of incentives, have two different understandings, have two different approaches, and have two different philosophies.

For your team to work effectively and in unison, you will need cooperation from those who may disagree with you. But good leadership is not a dictatorship. Do as Socrates would do. You must find common ground.

In my essay, The Four Irrefutable Laws of Tactical Leadership, I talked about the importance of giving your team the agency to make everyday decisions. For big decisions like direction and philosophy, you must have the final say. But you cannot afford be a dictator—you will spend more energy and time getting your team to cooperate if you aren’t willing to take their views into account.

Take time to listen. Take time to ask questions you know they agree on. Your team will see your effort as a form of genuine respect, which goes a long way in leadership. When you allow your people to feel heard, they are more likely to understand your point of view. And when they agree on the small things, they’ll lower their opposition when you have to make the large, difficult decisions.

By now, you’ve learned how to build relationships with your people. You trust them. You believe in them as future leaders. So, why not consider their opinions in deciding the path forward? When confronting opposition, enter a dialogue with those who may disagree with you. Start by finding common ground. See eye to eye with them before you enter areas of disagreement.

Don’t be a dictator. Ask yourself what would Socrates do?

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