January 21, 2018

Resolution wasn’t built in a day

Bridge to visionOur inclination is to think that it should be possible to resolve issues, disagreements, and even conflict in one go—in a day perhaps. Sometimes, no doubt it is, if we can bring enough goodwill and expertise to bear.

Other times, we may only be able to proceed part way; we may only be able to head in the right direction—or even just a promising direction.

But we should not be deterred…

Sometimes a little progress—and a little sustained movement by all parties—can be enough to build sufficient trust, confidence, and faith that, in time, further steps can be taken and more progress made towards an ultimate resolution.

Important, then, not to dismiss the initial progress, just because it’s incomplete.

Relationship building, or especially rebuilding, is a through-time process not an in-time event.

Resolution wasn’t built in a day.

The value of validation

TeamOf course, it’s good to make up our own mind about whether something we’re doing is right or not. Nevertheless, a bit of external validation is still very welcome.

We can seek it out ourselves, for our own needs.

But what about other people—those we have reason to assist in their learning?

If we’re supporting someone develop new leadership behaviours, for example, and they seem to be making some progress in that some of their people are stepping up and taking on appropriate leadership responsibilities as well, it can be extraordinarily reinforcing to prompt other people seeing these positive developments to say so.

In a workshop setting, one answer is simply to invite other participants to comment. Out in the field, a little more deliberate action is needed—perhaps asking them to take the trouble to have a word.

From our perspective then, as the orchestrator of all this, perhaps as a facilitator, or maybe just a friend…

Worth thinking about how to prompt people who could say something helpful.

Don’t leave it to chance.

Connection or fluency?

Mid sized audienceWhich is more important: being fluent or being connected with your audience i.e. the other party?

Traditionally, we pay a lot of attention to being fluent, even organising many aids to make sure we can join words together in a smooth and flowing way.


It may be more effective to concentrate on being connected with the audience.

If people have a sense of connection, they’ll listen with the heart rather than the head—and, in fact, take more away from the conversation. They won’t be that aware of glitches in the delivery.

It might not really about the words anyway.

If people are disengaged, it really doesn’t matter how good your words are.

Sometimes attempts at fluency can get in the way of natural connection.

The ideal is both, I suppose, but if you can’t have that, which would you go for…

Connection or fluency?

The problem of filtering

Three senior managersSometimes we need to conduct a relationship through a third party. For example, we might be supplying something to our customer’s customer, and need to discern indirectly what they require. Unfortunately, the person or organisation in the middle may not be that effective at relaying the necessary information, partly because their expertise is in another field—that’s why they’ve engaged our services.

Or maybe a family member asks for our help in resolving an issue with another family member but doesn’t want us to get directly involved—and yet they have some difficulty really hearing what the other person is saying.

If the set-up was a piece of electronics, we’d say the party in the middle was a low-pass filter, unintentionally removing important parts of the signal.

Two questions then…

What do you do to avoid the consequences of the filter? Seek opportunities to talk directly in a three-way conversation is an obvious step, though that option isn’t always open, or welcomed. Perhaps we have little option but to coach the middle person in being a more complete communicator. We may well need to find a way to motivate them to take the trouble.

How do you tackle this issue when it arises?

And, secondly…

Do you notice when you are being a filter, inadvertently inhibiting a process of communication? And what’s your response to that realisation?

Dangerous questions

Worried manBeen reading Daniel Kahneman’s excellent and very useful “Thinking, Fast and Slow”…

He says: If asked a difficult question we don’t know the answer to, we will normally pick an easier one we do have an answer to, and provide the answer to that one instead. And we do that without realising we’re making the substitution. It’s an unconscious process.

That rings true, I believe.

Moreover, it seems to me…

If the question asked requires a yes or no answer, then our search for a seemingly related question we can answer in those binary terms may take us an especially long way from the starting point, with unpredictable results.

Maybe we should take more care with our questions.

We want you to step up (except when we don’t)

GatheringLeaders in businesses and organisations often say they want their people to step up and take more initiative.


Some, in the next breath, will say they want certain things done a certain way, and they’ll end up directing the action they want. Other times, they’ll push back when the to-be-empowered folk come forward with some new and different idea that doesn’t quite fit with their view of things.

In other words, they want their people to step up—except, that is, when they don’t.

Quite a difficult thing to get right: stepping up some of the time, and only then in someone else’s preferred manner.

Could you be in this predicament?

The right review arrangements might be what you’re missing.

Taking people along with you

Group working on a projectIt’s remarkable how often this comes up as a theme: the challenge of getting a group of people on board with a course of action.

Our natural inclination is often that the hard task in a situation is working out what to do and the easy bit is taking other people along with us.

But really…

It’s the other way round: Working out what to do is the easy bit and taking everyone else along with us is the hard part.

And so it makes sense to put that first: To recognise that time spent in the “social” process is worth it in the long run, and that we should organise around that.

This seems rather obvious but still we often do the opposite: We revert to working out the solution ourselves and then trying to sell it, which actually is much harder.

Much better to get the group to develop the solution and apply our expertise in guiding them in that process. Then we don’t need to sell the plan to them… because it’s already theirs.

It’s a fundamental trait of human nature not to resist things we say ourselves—and one that’s worth making use of.

Then it’s easy to take people along with us.

Can a business leader sell with the same approach as a salesperson?

Four people, two shaking handsThe processes of selling are well-known, though, of course, what’s most effective and appropriate varies from context to context. And there’s always room to get better at it.

An important question is whether it’s entirely open to a leader with more rounded responsibility for the business or organisation to sell in the same manner. Can they adopt conventional sales techniques? Or do they need to modify their approach?

Of course, you might be thinking business leaders don’t need to sell. They have somebody to do that for them. That’s not my experience. For the most part, business leaders need to at least get involved in bringing new business into their organisation. Indeed that’s often the most important part of their role.

And in comparison with the specialist salesperson, the business leader needs to meet different customer expectations. In particular, the customer infers the organisation’s values from its leader. And these need to match what the customer expects.

And also, because the leader has responsibility for delivery as well as sales, and everything else besides, they need to be convincing about the whole of the business in an end-to-end way, not just that they will be the customer’s representative in the company’s processes.

And it’s very definitely a relational sale if the leader is involved.

What do you think?

How should a business leader approach the sales process? As if they were a salesperson? Or something else?

Do relationships beat hierarchy?

Meeting roomIn working life, we’re probably conditioned to believe that an individual’s behaviour towards us is mostly determined by the hierarchy of the organisation they work for. They follow the rules of that organisation with a high level of commitment.

Or do they?

Countless examples show that the loyalty of personal relationships is a stronger force—not that the individuals involved will break the law or do something unethical—but they will adjust what they do as best they can to maintain the relationship.

So getting to know people is, of course, the way to moderate the unthinking excesses of organisations.

Perhaps interpersonal relationships can, in fact, be a stronger force.

What do you think?

Is it true for the organisations you know and deal with? Do relationships beat hierarchy?

The truth which sets us free, if we hear it

Worried manJournalist and historian, Herbert Agar (1897-1980) said: “The truth that makes people free is for the most part the truth which they prefer not to hear.” (Actually, he talked about “men”, as was the way of the time, but I’ve taken it upon myself to translate his words to the modern era.)

What a great line that is, and, in my experience, very often true.

Why is that?

Why do we prefer not to hear a truth that releases us from a burdened way of life and sets on a path to greater success and happiness?

Is it because it’s too painful to hear that particular truth?

Or is that we fear being set free? Then we would need to own the consequences of our choices rather than have the convenience of being a victim. We would no longer have something or someone to blame.

What do you think?

Not so easy perhaps to have the responsibility of being free.