From Grumblers to Allies: Reaching Consensus with The Energy Bar™

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Are you a leader who needs the whole-hearted support of people who don’t report to you? In a survey I just completed, I found this to be a huge problem. The people whose support you need could be your boss, other executives, the board, customers, or even a gatekeeper.

Your success may rest on your ability to influence those people. But leaders told me that isn’t so easy. Here are a few comments about these potential stakeholders:

“. . . is extremely busy and stressed”

“. . . lots of initiatives being rolled out (right now)”

“. .. (my) access is limited”

“. . .He is not passionate about what I’m passionate about.”

“. . .competing priorities”

And the list goes on and on.

And the price of failure to gain support can be very high. People said:

“. . .I could lose my job”

“. . .it could inhibit long-term success”

“. . .the project will fail”

“. . . it could get in the way of a huge, multimillion dollar project

“. . . it could damage trust”

And this list goes on and on, as well.

How do you earn the strong support of people who don’t report to you?

Let me use The Energy Bar™ to show you what to you could do. (If you aren’t familiar with The Energy Bar™, please take a look at this 3-minute animated video:

People told me they needed stakeholders to be strong supporters. That’s as far to the right as you can get on The Energy Bar™. You’re asking them to be allies, champions, spokespeople, living embodiments of the goodness of this new idea. That’s a lot of support to ask for.

 What Support Will You Need?

The Energy Bar™

Resistance                                                                                                  Support                                                                                                                           !_________!___________!___________!___________!___________!_____X______!

Opposition          Grumbling        Indifferent      Interested       Willing             Ally

Before you can try to influence people to support you that strongly, you’ve got to know where they are today. According to the results of my study, many of the critical stakeholders are far from being an “ally” on The Energy Bar™.

Where is Their Energy Today?

The Energy Bar™

Resistance                                                                                                  Support                                                                                                                           !_________!___________!_____X______!___________!___________!___________!

Opposition          Grumbling        Indifferent      Interested       Willing             Ally

They are on the resistance side of the bar. Perhaps they’re indifferent to what you have to say. After all, they’ve got their own priorities, their own budget battles, their own dreams. So, they aren’t necessarily against you, they just don’t care! If this is where they are, that’s important to know.

The Energy Bar™

Resistance                                                                                                      Support                                                                                                                           !_________!_____X______!___________!___________!___________!___________!

Opposition          Grumbling        Indifferent      Interested       Willing             Ally

But perhaps they are farther to the left, and the resistance is a bit stronger. They are grumbling. When they hear about your idea, they roll their eyes or think, “Here we go again”, “It’s another flavor of the month”, or “What’s she been smoking this time?” If they are grumbling, you need to know that.


 The Energy Bar™

Resistance                                                                                                  Support                                                                                                                           !_____X___!___________!___________!___________!___________!___________!

Opposition          Grumbling        Indifferent      Interested       Willing             Ally

Perhaps they are way over to the left. If so, they are likely to oppose you with vigor. There could be a lot of reasons for that. Perhaps they’ve got their own priorities or their own pet projects that they want to keep alive. Perhaps they’re afraid that your idea will harm them personally. Or – and this is a tough one – maybe they don’t trust you.

You must learn where their energy is today. Granted, you might not like what you see, but without that information, you’ll be flying into a storm without radar. You’ll just be inviting trouble.

Acting on That Knowledge

Once you know where they are on The Energy Bar™ and where you’d like them to be, you can create a plan. If the gap is pretty wide, like it is in this example, big things will probably be equally big mistakes. Avoid big events. Take Ringling Brothers off your speed dial for now and keep your strategy simple and small. You need to look for ways to start moving energy from left to right, step-by-step.

Although you need them to move all the way over to Ally on the bar, think about the opportunities you have coming up where you could move energy in incremental ways. For instance, a weekly staff meeting, the regular conference call with all the regions, informal one-on-one phone calls, hallways meetings either by chance or choice – no “event” is too small to consider. Any of these events can be an opportunity to move energy from left to right.

Here’s what to do.

1. Define a realistic goal for the next event. Just moving a potential supporter from grumbling to indifferent could be a big step. Or maybe it would be realistic to move them from indifferent to interested. You’re not going to ask them to do anything other than get interested in what you have to say.

2. Take a look at how you typically handle yourself during one of these events and ask yourself, “Can this strategy shift their energy?” Lots of meetings are filled with slideshow presentations. If that sounds like you, then ask yourself, “Will my hundred and fifty tightly-packed PowerPoint slides actually move their energy from Grumbling to Interested during that teleconference?” If not, then try something else. Subtle changes in how you run a meeting can make a big difference. One of my clients decided to cut his typical large deck of slides down to five slides. That was a big deal. It left a lot more time and space for conversation and engagement. Even if this extra space doesn’t result in conversation, it does allow people to digest and think about the topic at hand.

3. Figure out how you will know if energy has actually shifted. I saw an eager young manager make a presentation to colleagues from across his organization. It was clear that he cared about his idea and that he had spent a lot of time preparing his slideshow. But by focusing on his slides instead of his audience, he missed some critical information. Within minutes some people moved to the back of the room to get coffee. That’s OK, but they stayed there and talked to each other. One guy in front of me was doing a crossword. Others were texting. He missed all of that. At the end of his 45-minute presentation he asked, “What do you think?” The room was silent. He stood there for a few seconds and then walked off the stage. Just looking up a few times would have told him where energy was and where it was moving.

4. Let’s say your event was successful. The next question is, how are you going to build on this energy and keep things moving? It is sad how many planning meetings generate lots of enthusiasm and ideas, but aren’t followed up by tactical plans that build on the foundation that was just laid in that meeting.

I truly believe that if you pay attention to The Energy Bar™ throughout the life of a project, you will find yourself building strong support and avoiding much of the potentially damaging resistance. I wish you well.


The Energy Bar™ video. This is a 3-minute animated video that explains this simple tool. Many have told me that they were able to begin to use The Energy Bar™ simply by watching this video.

How do I find out where energy is today? I use something I call “the list” to find out where support and resistance is today. In fact, I never work on a change project with a client without finding out what’s on the list. The Magic List is a short e-book that will show you why it is a practical tool and how to use it.

I continue to post ideas for applying The Energy Bar™ in this blog.

Questions or comments? Send me an e-mail or give me a call. or 703 525-7074 (US)

  • Rick Maurer

Rick Maurer works with leaders who can’t afford to have resistance kill their plans. He is author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance and other books on leadership, influence, and change.