August 11, 2023
Imagine you are a leader, and your direct report has a really bad idea. I mean, really bad. Something that has been tried and did not work, something that you know will not work, or maybe something of which the direct report is too inexperienced to see the consequences. An example could be that an engaged newcomer sees a flaw in the collaboration with another department and suggests talking to the head of that department to fix things. You know that the last 217 times you tried to engage that person in fixing things it made stuff worse. Now, you don’t want to demotivate your direct report, but you also don’t want to let them run straight into a brick wall. Not only leaders are in this situation, coaches or parents can face similar conundrums. So, what can you do?
First thing I would do is to ask myself what my goal for the outcome of this situation is. After my contribution to the conversation, what should be different?
- The other person should continue to feel engaged and motivated.
- They should feel valued and appreciated.
- They will continue to produce good ideas and share them.
- They will profit from my experience and not run into the brick wall.
- They will think about alternative solutions.
- We’ll have revisited the issue without wasting too much time discussing why something won’t work.
These goals already give me some ideas on how to approach such a scenario:
- Appreciate the direction of the thought: “Thank you for thinking about how to make our lives easier!”
- Agreeing with the goal never hurts: “I agree that we really should fix this thing with the other department!”
- Ask for collaboration: “Can we sit together for a moment and think about how we might best approach this?”
- Give an account of your experience without discounting the impulse for change: “Before we start thinking about how to do this, can I share what we have tried so far – maybe we can come up with new ideas!”
- Ask openly: “So what are your thoughts on how to best approach this?”
This way, you will have described the brick wall without denying the fact that there may be an opening in it that you have not seen, as you have been staring at it for a while and your direct report’s fresh set of eyes might be able to identify. You’ll have acknowledged and appreciated, maybe even motivated your direct report. Compare this to: “That won’t work, we have tried, believe me!” – quite a difference, no?
If you want to explore how to use these and other coaching skills in management and leadership, why not join us for a free meetup and exchange, where we discuss cases, give information on our courses and simply hang out with a bunch of likeminded people.
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