Sometimes I help groups that are stuck in disagreement find solutions. When we meet, every person who walks in the door has the problem in one pocket and the solution in the other pocket. They are all completely certain that their view of the situation are clear and correct. They also believe that they have determined the correct solution using the best criteria.
What’s fascinating is that each person has his or her own definition of the problem that is rarely the same as anyone else’s. The solutions they bring are different, and the standards used to judge those solutions’ correctness often vary wildly.
Of course, they don’t know all that when they walk in. They’ve been arguing but not listening. They may know each other’s solutions, but they rarely have figured out why each person believes that their solution is best. They have been arguing positions without asking questions or truly listening.
The best illustration of what is missing from the discussion is the Conversation Outline that I’ve talked about before (https://kathystoddardtorrey.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/lets-talk-conversation-outline).
When in conflict, we usually jump from Opening to Develop Solutions. It amounts to saying, “Let’s talk about the new procedure” and then each person insisting that his or her way is the right way. This chain of events damages relationships and doesn’t increase the chances of the group agreeing to anything other than the fact that they don’t like each other.
The Listen and Share stage is often skipped, and it is where the biggest picture of the problem is discovered. Let’s say that a team must decide on a vendor to use for a new project. One person believes that the most reliable vendor is the one to choose. Another thinks that the lowest-cost vendor is the best choice. Another person might say that they should stick with the one that they have now with whom they’ve built a relationship. One team member thinks they should give a brand new and promising vendor an opportunity.
Each person is using reasonable criteria for his or her decision. In the Listen and Share stage, the group stops to figure out what those criteria are – they listen for understanding. In the process, they acquire a complete view of the situation. In essence, they pull the problems and solutions out of their pockets and lay them all out on the table. Then they examine them one by one without trying to convince each other of anything. The discussion is truly sharing and listening – not arguing or convincing.
During the Listen and Share stage, it’s important that everyone stays curious. They would ask questions like, “Why do you think reliability is more important that cost?” and “What advantages do you think the new vendor would bring?”
Here is an important side note: authentic curiosity is imperative! You can ask the questions above with a sarcastic or snide tone and ruin the relationship and the discussion. It can be difficult to put our egos aside and listen to other people’s ideas, but listening and curiosity are the keys to great solutions. If you are having a hard time, remember that maintaining a positive relationship with others is key in getting to your desired outcome. No one likes to “give in” to someone who is mean to them.
After I have guided a group through the discussion process, they come up with a better solution than any one person brought through the door. It’s a better solution because it’s been created by many different brains and perspectives. We take the collective knowledge of the group and then use their collective brain power to decide on the best course of action for the group or organization. It is a fabulous process to watch.
There may be a person or two who won’t let go of a solution because it helps them the most or just because they’ve let their egos get the best of them. Those people who put their own needs above the needs of others and the organization benefit from coaching conversations with their leaders.
Once a person has taken a strong position, it can be difficult to change because it feels like defeat. It’s important for the group to accept a person’s change in position gracefully and never do the “I told you so” dance or say, “I knew you’d come around to the right way of thinking.” Not cool.
For the most part, after a facilitated discussion, there is more understanding and less animosity – and the decision is a good one that the group feels confident about. You can achieve those same results by focusing on the Listen and Share stage of the conversation outline. Ensuring that every person’s perspective is heard and understood makes finding a solution much, much easier.
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