I just had one of these meetings. Maybe you know what I’m talking about — the main topic seemed to be how hopeless the situation is, what is hindering us and how we can’t possibly do anything to change the situation. While it doesn’t help to be problem phobic and close your eyes when faced with a big challenge, staring the problem in the face like a deer in the headlights will catch you and your team and maybe your whole organization in analysis paralysis. Blame storming then replaces brainstorming! We know from the research of Barbara Fredrickson, that when we are stressed and in fight or flight mode, our creative and problem solving solution finding capacities are greatly impaired. So, all in all – not a good state to be in!

So how do you get your team to move from estate of analysis paralysis into a state of agency and solution finding?

It is not an easy fix and requires some persistence, but it can be done. In my experience, the trick is to create the right balance between acknowledging that there is a problem and starting to talk about what people envision as a solution. If you start talking about solutions or even say things like let’s not concentrate on the problem here, let’s move forward, too quickly, you will antagonize people and the more you insist the more they will resist your well-intentioned attempts to turn the conversation into something more positive. So here is a way for turning conversations around:

Team: The situation is miserable. We are losing customers and if the trend of digitalization continues, we will be out of business very soon. I’m also not sure whether our top management has enough understanding of how difficult it is going to be. I don’t think that we can do anything, but it is going to be really tough.
You: Yes, it is really tough. I agree, digitalization will be a big challenge for us!
Team: And look what happened when we were choosing our new CRM system! They did not listen to us – and the one they picked is so bad. They are never going to listen to us. I am not sure we can survive this one.
You: Yeah, there was a bit of a mess around the CRM system. We do have some trouble with it, you are right. Is there anything we learned from this experience?
Team: Not to trust management, I guess? No, seriously, I think we really need to figure out how to make our point.
You: What are your ideas on how to do that?
Team: We could….

 

Of course, blaming “top management”, another department or anyone for the current problems rarely helps. However, directly disagreeing with people on their assessment of the “guilty” party, usually leads to discussions and “yes, but” games intensifying the unhelpful antagonsim e.g.:

Team: The situation is miserable. We are losing customers and if the trend of digitalization continues, we will be out of business very soon. I’m also not sure whether our top management has enough understanding of how difficult it is going to be. I don’t think that we can do anything, but it is going to be really tough.
You: No, I think you are wrong, they were discussing digitalization in the last offsite!
Team: Yeah and what ever comes of that!! That’s just talk, talk, talk….
You: But….

 

You don’t want to agree with the blamestorming, as it is the exact opposite of the culture that you want – so you can say: “Yes, I understand that we are having trouble with the current situation” (without blaming anyone). Or “Yes, it is hard” and then turn the conversation around with:

  • What did we learn from this?
  • What do we have to get right this time?
  • What is important for us to do now?
  • What do we want to achieve here?

The most important thing is not to enter into any kind of “Yes, but” games and to listen closely for agency and wishes hidden in complaints. Each “but” is an invitation to listen more carefully for what the other person really wants.

To experiment with these and other conversation moves, join us at our free coaching meet up an exchange:

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