Everyone Has a Hidden Agenda. Can You Uncover It? | Kevin Allen Has.

When I accepted the invitation to write about Kevin Allen’s new book, The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following, I thought I knew what the book would be about. Instead, I got a terrific surprise and an eye-opening experience.

Ulterior motives. Inauthentic behavior. Secret maneuvers. Hidden agendas for many of us have often been considered the tactics of career climbers impatient to get ahead. Finally, there’s a new and tested perspective that will better serve us.

Kevin Allen, business development expert, shows us that hidden agendas are actually gateways to discovery and revelation. When clarified, they can propel us to the best kind of success.

Uncovering the hidden agendas of clients, coworkers, and our companies means tapping into your inner Sherlock. Fortunately, dear Watson is now as near as your bookshelf.

Embracing the pitch

Kevin Allen is an adman and every successful adman is also a pitchman who understands the importance of connection.

In his book, The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following, Allen gives us an insider’s look at ad campaigns around the globe that he pitched, specifically MasterCard’s Priceless campaign, and how he was able to tap into each client’s hidden agenda.

Allen’s career history is extraordinary and extensive but a couple things stand out.

He writes:

I grew up in the tough hallways of the toughest ad agency in the competitive field of advertising, McCann Erickson.

Whereas I first thought it a business weakness that I was sensitive and intuitive, it actually became a potent business asset, one that will only increase in importance as time progresses.

It was Allen’s soft side that was his differentiator. Once he realized that and learned how to capitalize on it for the companies and clients he worked for, his career was off and running.

He learned early on that pitching is about connecting with others at an emotional level:

…behind every decision to buy–whether the item is a service or a product, an argument or an idea–is the unspoken emotional motivation. This is the hidden agenda.

Every day you personally have an opportunity to make a pitch for:

  • the job vacancy or promotion you seek
  • your idea to improve the way work is done
  • new business–new products or services
  • favorable treatment by regulators, community leaders, or donors
  • media coverage, on-line support, or endorsements

To pitch successfully, you need to understand your target’s hidden agenda.

Digging deep

Connecting is step one. Creating a following is what follows.

No matter what you have to sell or propose, you need to frame a pitch that goes to the emotional heart of every hidden agenda.

Allen explains further:

People don’t follow you because they’ve been hoodwinked; they follow you because they believe in you. They employ you, promote you, buy from you, or hire you because you understand their values, their wants, and their needs.

He drives home this point:

The hidden agenda is the unspoken, emotional motivation that resides in the heart of your audience. This emotional core is the true motivator behind every decision.

Allen explains three driving forces that underpin every hidden agenda, along with sample questions he asks to identify them like:

  1. Wants–What frustrates you about the perceptions connected with your company/brand?
  2. Needs–What keeps you up a night?
  3. Values–What is your company’s noble calling?

His book  takes you through the process for uncovering the hidden agenda and framing the pitch. His easily readable examples and illustrations are compelling, motivating, and straight-forward. Allen gives us the inside scoop and makes it feel incredibly comfortable. Yes, we all can do this if we’re willing to dig deep.

Big points for soft skills

Allen gives full-throated voice to the value of intuitiveness, sensitivity, and humanity in the workplace, even in large, hard-driving advertising companies battling fierce competition.

He writes:

Success in winning business and creating a following means coming across as your own genuine self and allowing others to see you as you are, all in the name of making a human connection.

He’s so right about that. We all need to remember to be true to ourselves and positive about our capabilities, never apologizing for what we do well. If we tap into our own hidden agendas, we’ll likely find our careers moving in just the right direction.

From “En Garde” to Guard Down. No Epees Required! | Penetrating Arm’s Length Relationships

Have you ever watched modern fencing? It’s a fascinating Olympic sport of controlled swordplay—the “act of defending.”  Fencing garb is pretty intimidating: a tough nylon or Kevlar jacket, plastron (under arm protection), knickers, a chest protector (just for women!), gloves, and a mask—all puncture resistant. Fencing is serious business.

So how about the “fencers” you work with? The people always in the act of defending themselves. The ones doing everything they can to avoid punctures to their brand, persona, egos, and position security.

They work hard to stay at arm’s length from us. That’s not a problem until we need them to get our work done.  

Diffusing defenses is our best offense.  

Accommodating “off putting” behavior by co-workers and bosses just enables them. When colleagues and bosses want to keep us at a distance they will:

  • Become inaccessible
  • Always be in a rush
  • Be unapproachable, dismissive, negative, and critical
  • Give off negative body language: scowls, crossed arms, stares
  • Reject our work 

We generally assume that these behaviors are signs of arrogance, superiority, power plays, or egotism. We often take it personally, believing it’s an insult to our capabilities, value, or style.

We’ll never find out the truth until we penetrate the barriers they put up.  

Understand your opponent before you strike your position! 

People will keep us at arm’s length for a lot of reasons. It may be because we:

  • Are unknown to them, untested, and unproven
  • Haven’t demonstrated our trustworthiness
  • Appear to lack savvy, know-how, or good judgment
  • Act with too much deference, uncertainty, or cockiness
  • Have a prior affiliation within or outside the company that creates unease
  • Present a disconcerting work style, way of speaking, or appearance 

We need to figure out what’s getting in the way of the relationship. Start by:

  • noticing what triggers their defenses
  • getting insights from others who have experienced similar reactions
  • talking to colleagues who have gained the kind of relationship you want 

You don’t need pointed weapons to pierce their defenses. Try approaches like these instead:

1. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Be your best authentic self with them. No one let’s his/her guard down when we puff ourselves up, oversell our capabilities, overplay our eagerness, and make exaggerated promises. 

2. Find a way to break the ice through laughter. Share a funny moment that involved you. This is not about telling jokes: It’s about helping them to laugh with you by being a wee bit self-deprecating.

3. Share interesting information. Ask a penetrating question. Make an observation and ask for his/her insight. Help him/her talk to you about work-related subjects that matter to them.

4. Deliver good work and make an appointment to get their feedback. Generate dialogue, seek an honest critique, and respond with appreciation.

5. If all this fails, confront. Give forth a resounding “en garde! (get ready!)”

Here’s what I did when I was at my wits ends.

  • I told one boss to stop scowling at me every time I suggested an idea. (That made him laugh and ended his use of his “look” with me.)
  • I declared to several union stewards that open dialogue was the only way we would get things done. (That opened communication channels and kept them open.)
  • I used “impact on the bottom line” questions to gain support by knowledge experts for one of my projects. (That converted them to collaborators.)  

Every touch scores a point.  

Too often we allow people to keep us at bay. Accepting with their barriers inhibits our growth, stalls our productivity, and chokes our courage.  

Building good relationships is an art. Being business fit means knowing how to get from arm’s length to engagement. No need for swords and Kevlar. Just some good old-fashioned conversation will do!

What’s been your experience with a boss or colleague who wanted to keep you at arm’s length? How did you break through? Your tips will be very helpful. Thanks.