January 19, 2018

We want a thriller not a thesis

Members of an audienceLike it or not, we find it hard to engage with dry, factual, objective communication. We need the information, of course, but nevertheless we find a “thesis” hard to access and to assimilate.

Instead, even though we know we maybe shouldn’t, we find it easier to connect with something exciting, something that touches us emotionally, something vivid. We’re captivated by the story and the drama. We hear the message within—and what’s more we remember it.

There’s a time and a place for rigorously argued, dispassionate material, and there’s a time and a place for emotional intensity.

Can we deliver both, as the occasion requires?

If we want to move people, there’s no getting away from it…

We need a thriller not a thesis.

If in doubt, communicate

Three senior managers talkingSometimes we wonder whether we should say something or not, probably because it’s sensitive in some way.

I’ve always reckoned that if we’re unsure whether to take a particular action or not, we should do the positive thing i.e. take the option that is active rather than passive. At least that way we’ll learn something even if the action doesn’t turn out that well, whereas if we don’t do anything, we’ll learn nothing. Over time that attitude has paid off, I would say.

Similarly, then…

If we’re unsure about speaking (or writing) to someone about something—if the decision is finely balanced, that is—we should go ahead, with the best skill and tact we can muster and if it seems the right time. At least then we move things on, even if the road is bumpy.

If in doubt, communicate.

Broad or precise?

Group discussionBroad or precise, which do you prefer?

Possibly (but not necessarily) because I’m engineer, I generally regard precision (and the requisite level of detail) as an unmitigated good thing. Not everyone has the same preference of course.

It is quite striking (to me, that is) how some people seem to like an approach to a subject that is really quite broad. To those that unconsciously prefer more precision and structure such an approach can seem really rather woolly, and it’s hard to understand the choice.

But, of course, from the perspective of those who are comfortable with a certain fuzziness in the interest of a more general view, too much structure and precision can be distinctly suffocating.

In fact, of course, it takes all sorts.

The thing is…

Which do you prefer—the broad or the precise?

And what about the people you are dealing with?

Individuals may divide more sharply into the two categories than we realise and the one is rather unfathomable to the other. That’s because these patterns of filtering are largely unconscious.

The question then is how to adapt to a person’s preference, which, by the way, they probably aren’t aware of.

All rather significant in many contexts.

We don’t challenge what we say ourselves

Three managersWe don’t challenge what we say ourselves. (Not unless we’re like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings anyway.)

OK, we might be conflicted about some subject of concern to us, and have some inner tension around that, but on the whole, we don’t reject the things we say. We don’t argue with ourselves.

And other people are just like that too. They don’t reject what they say either.


It helps a lot to get other people to articulate an issue and possible approaches to solving it. Then they’re comfortable with what’s said. They said it themselves, after all. And they might even take action.

The way to get the answer to come from them is by asking questions (open questions), sort of coaching the other person to a co-created outcome.

What’s your way of guiding someone to a solution you can support? Is that a style you can choose to adopt when you want to?

Or do you just flat out tell them your view and hope for the best? That might be seem to be quicker and take less patience. But it might not work at all. And even if it does, it leaves you with the job of supplying all the drive and direction.

Better to get it to come from them.

Blending the intervention

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe don’t have all the answers. That’s true whether we’re on the outside of the issue looking in or on the inside looking out.

The leadership team knows its business, whereas the change agent knows something useful the insiders don’t currently have. Neither has all the answers, nor even all of the pieces available collectively.


The way forward needs to be a blend of both—both what the leadership team already has and what the change agent is bringing, but not usually all of either.

For the necessary co-creation to happen, both parties need to let go of something—to give up part of their model.

Are you ready to do that?

Knowledge-sharing as a social process

Three senior managers talkingWe often need to transfer knowledge from one person to another.

And yet, how effectively do we really do that?

Quite often our approach is to turn the knowledge into information on paper (or perhaps Powerpoint slides), usually in objective, dispassionate, businesslike terms—all very professional and proper.

The trouble is…

We’ve converted something we actually hold in direct sensory form—images, sounds, and other sensory experience—the stuff of real expertise, into something sterile—accurate, no doubt—but sterile.

And that’s hard to assimilate. In fact, we’ve created a barrier: We’ve interrupted the social connection through which information can flow rapidly and effectively.

Better sometimes to share knowledge messily, socially, and, yes, “unprofessionally.”

Worth pondering sometimes whether the paperwork is getting in the way.

Might be better just to talk.

Asking the right question

Group in discussion at computerThere’s no such thing as the right question, of course, but some enquiries contribute more to moving things on than others.

It’s worth thinking about…

What’s your intention when you ask a question – helping things along in the direction they need to go in for the benefit of everyone, or making a point to enhance your position?

Both have their place, I suppose.


It’s good to be clear about your aim.

And if it’s to move things on, there’s a skill in asking just the right question to pick things up where they are and carry them on to the next step.

How well do you do that?

You can’t really assess your staff…

Four business people in a discussion… unless you’re sure you’ve provided effective leadership.

If you’re looking for the people who work for you to be self-motivated and highly productive, you can’t sensibly begin to assess whether they are or not, unless or until you’re sure you’ve provided good leadership.

Otherwise your actions (or inactions) are a bigger factor than their character.

And it’s probably not a question of just telling them what to do.

Yes, you may well need to be demanding, but the key point is, is the direction you are providing clear, or at least are any ambiguities clearly understood and balanced?

If not, the inertia caused by lack of direction will be the dominant factor.

And you won’t really know whether your people are any good or not.

And, of course, with the right leadership…

Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.

How others see us, and what to do about it

Two staff members smilingHow others see us is very important in determining our results and what happens in our lives. Many factors affect that, of course: Our track record and so on.

However, a big part of it is how we see ourselves.

Surprisingly perhaps…

The limiting factor in what we achieve can be our own self-image. If we have a pessimistic view of our capabilities then that will be borne out in reality. Our relative denial of our own power will diminish how others see us and that will make whatever we hope to achieve more difficult. Our self-image will be the primary constraint on our success.

We do tend to hold ourselves back by playing small.

So it’s important to step properly into our own power, our own authority.

Of course, over-confidence is a danger too.

Accurate self-perception is the key to the greatest success. That way, other will see us as we really are, and results will flow from that.

The question is…

How well do you understand your own power? And do you live congruently with it?


In making plans for work…

Sir Winston Churchill…it is sometimes necessary to take into account the actions of other people.

It was a week of Winston Churchill quotes last week, though not, in fact, this one: “In making plans for war, it is sometimes necessary to take into account the actions of the enemy.”

So what do you do to get your own work done and still be available to other people?

(Not that they’re “the enemy,” of course.)

Just when you think you found a new quiet spot, they’ll seek you out. Family too.

They want your attention after all, and you’ve cultivated that really.

So how do you make them content and self-sufficient before taking off on your own?

What’s the reassurance they need?