How the way we end conversations leads to confusion or action

Have you ever worked with some­one who uses con­fu­sion and com­plex­i­ty and avoids action? Instead of fig­ur­ing out the next thing to do, they talk about how big a prob­lem is. Instead of tak­ing action, they freeze.

I had a work col­league that used this tac­tic. In crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions, she would talk at length about many dif­fer­ent angles of an issue. We would dis­cuss the ten­sions that caused a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem but rarely reached a solu­tion. She would con­clude these unpro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions with a sig­na­ture phrase “yeah, isn’t this com­pli­cat­ed?”

Yeah, isn’t this com­pli­cat­ed” is a way of say­ing, this sit­u­a­tion is over­whelm­ing, I don’t know what to do. It’s a way of say­ing, “the work we are doing takes effort, but I don’t want to do any­thing.”. Instead of fig­ur­ing out an action plan and doing stuff, yeah, it’s com­pli­cat­ed was a way of avoid­ing move­ment.

Avoiding movement

Avoid move­ment is safe. No action buys us time. We don’t have to face ten­sions with peo­ple and do the dif­fi­cult emo­tion­al work of decid­ing.

Moving toward action: how to end conversations with helpful phrases

Instead of leav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion con­fused, we should seek clar­i­ty. I like Bre­nee Brown’s phrase: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” We must define and cre­ate projects, not com­plain about prob­lems. We can orga­nize our projects by decid­ing who owns it, decid­ing who is going to take the next step, and by when. It takes a lit­tle more effort, but the end result is a much.

Here are some helpful questions that may help you end conversations toward clarity:

  1. Who owns this?
  2. How will we know if this is a suc­cess?
  3. What does suc­cess look like to you?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What do you want me to do?

There will always be opposition

Have you ever encoun­tered some­one who does­n’t agree with your point of view or see things the same way you do? I’m sure you’ve expe­ri­enced the ten­sion that lies when you have an idea but know some­one is going to chal­lenge you. This is what makes the world a beau­ti­ful place, but it can annoy us and stress us out. We can prob­a­bly agree with this state­ment: there will always be some­one who does not approve our work.

So, if it’s true there will always be oppo­si­tion, how then might we adjust our behav­ior?

If it’s true there will always be at least one per­son who does­n’t like what we’re up to, what might we need to con­sid­er in our mind­set and think­ing?

If it’s true all peo­ple will not see things the same way we do, what’s next?

Adjusting our behavior

One of the ways we can deal with oppo­si­tion is to adjust our behav­ior. As humans, we have the abil­i­ty to change the nar­ra­tive, change our think­ing, and see the world dif­fer­ent­ly. Some of this hap­pens in our think­ing pat­terns or in the invis­i­ble world. Some of this hap­pens in the exter­nal or phys­i­cal world. How we behave exists in both of these worlds.

Since there will always be oppo­si­tion, make an agree­ment with your­self that you will not sulk or get dis­cour­aged when you hear some­one who does­n’t like what you said. There will always be peo­ple who don’t get you, and you knew that before­hand! If you did­n’t know that, it’s true, right? We can’t live every moment of our lives in terms of those who oppose us.

Since there will always be oppo­si­tion, change your sur­round­ings. Switch things up. You don’t have to have your desk in that dark cor­ner. Your room does not have to be paint­ed that col­or. Make a sim­ple tweak to your sur­round­ings to help you remem­ber you have the abil­i­ty to change your sur­round­ings. Charles Duhigg illus­trates this in his book Smarter Faster Bet­ter where he describes how mem­bers of the mil­i­tary were giv­en the abil­i­ty to rearrange the fur­ni­ture in their liv­ing quar­ters. This gave each per­son a sense of auton­o­my and a deep­er sense of con­trol. You can do the same.

Since there will always be some­one who does­n’t like your work, decide now that you won’t let that freeze you up. The last thing you should do is freeze up and stop mak­ing stuff. That’s what the oppo­si­tion wants. Decide on the front end that you will cre­ate art. If there are peo­ple who don’t get it, as Seth Godin would say, it was­n’t for them.

Mindset and thinking questions... (Invisible world)

As you think about your inter­nal dia­logue or your invis­i­ble world, you can struc­ture how you want to think about your work.

How much atten­tion are you going to give the oppo­si­tion? Decide before it destroys your day.

How much atten­tion will you give your sup­port team? Know who they are so you can run to them in emer­gen­cies.

What voic­es ulti­mate­ly mat­ter most in your life? Brené Brown sug­gests hav­ing a 1 inch by 1 inch piece of paper with the voic­es that are most encour­ag­ing in your life. It’s small on pur­pose. Let them know they are on your square and keep them close, espe­cial­ly when you feel dis­cour­aged.

What’s next? (Physical world)

If it’s true there WILL be oppo­si­tion, Get to work. What are you wait­ing for?

Stop com­plain­ing. You knew this would­n’t be easy.

Butt in chair. Thanks, Anne Lam­ott

Find out what inspires you — and come back to it when you’re dis­cour­aged. Keep a rainy day file.

Use criteria to create momentum

Objec­tive data, truth, facts, sci­ence, and proven stud­ies all accom­plish some­thing for those that con­sid­er them­selves thinkers: pro­tec­tion.

A plea to “be objec­tive” rids any hint of sub­jec­tive emo­tion, sto­ries, feel­ings, and ideas from being cred­itable. It counts sub­jec­tiv­i­ty as some­thing not to be used or val­ued.

But what if we’ve got­ten it wrong? What if dis­miss­ing sub­jec­tiv­i­ty (and all the emo­tions and less­er things that go with it) is a big mis­take?

Human tendency: to know things.

There’s a pull we have as humans to want to know why and find the real answer that caus­es some­thing to be true. So when we find facts backed by bal­anced stud­ies and research, it’s like find­ing a firm foun­da­tion. By plac­ing our trust in facts, we don’t have to rely on our inad­e­qua­cies, weak­ness­es, or fear that we might be wrong. How could I have known that study was­n’t con­duct­ed prop­er­ly — it’s not my fault!

On the oth­er hand, as humans we have feel­ings, ideas, and sto­ries that aren’t backed by any kind of con­clu­sive, sci­en­tif­ic study. We have raw heart and emo­tion. The best lead­ers, thinkers, writ­ers, and doers have all fig­ured out some way of man­ag­ing their raw emo­tion so they can get through the day and engage with oth­er peo­ple.

One option some­times offered is to “put our feel­ings in the back seat.” That we can put our emo­tions on the side­lines and count them as part of the expe­ri­ence of what it is to be a per­son.

Maybe you’ve heard some­one say some­thing like, “oh that’s just sub­jec­tive” or “I hear what you’re say­ing but that’s not real­ly root­ed in facts.” Basi­cal­ly, a ten­den­cy to dis­miss things that are felt...

Another option... define criteria

Maybe there’s anoth­er option. Maybe the ten­den­cy to dis­miss things (espe­cial­ly sub­jec­tive remarks) is an inabil­i­ty to define cri­te­ria.

Defining criteria takes effort and concentration

Many of us do not take the time to define cri­te­ria. Defin­ing cri­te­ria takes effort. It takes time. To define cri­te­ria for some­thing means we have to do the hard work of think­ing.

Defining criteria requires our slow, deliberate brain (not our fast, fear brain)

Our slow brain is the part of our neu­rol­o­gy that engages in high­er-order think­ing, plan­ning, and rea­son­ing. Our fast brain is the part of our head that thinks we are going to jail if we don’t behave prop­er­ly.

When we have to “define cri­te­ria” we have to go beyond objec­tiv­i­ty.

Decide to focus

The Focused State” is some­thing you may be look­ing to reach. You may have reached it once or twice before but find that it’s hard to repli­cate and repro­duce on com­mand.

You may blame your boss, spouse, or lack of time. You’ll blame any­thing and any­one. I’ve been there.

Choosing to focus takes effort.

Focus takes dis­ci­pline and per­spec­tive to make good deci­sions on what you need to focus on and why it is appro­pri­ate for right now.

But what we often miss with focus is that it’s a deci­sion. You and I must DECIDE to focus — to qui­et the voice that says we need to be work­ing on some­thing else.

Focus is a decision

When you make the deci­sion to focus, you direct your atten­tion away from the triv­ial and toward a top­ic. You block out dis­trac­tions and clar­i­fy the win. You decide what will con­sume your atten­tion and how far you need to get before you’re will­ing to let up.

Choose to focus

You have a choice today. You can decide to focus. Or you can let some­one else do it for you.

Influence and impact

One thing you can keep in mind each day is that you have influ­ence and impact as an indi­vid­ual per­son. It can be com­mon to think that on your own, you can’t impact or change much any­thing unless you’re in an “offi­cial” posi­tion of lead­er­ship. 

It turns out that the most influ­en­tial indi­vid­u­als lever­age their influ­ence exact­ly where they are right now. They don’t wait for a fan­cy role or revised title or larg­er paycheck.In oth­er words, they influ­ence and impact peo­ple exact­ly where they are now.

With­in your sphere, you have the abil­i­ty to start or con­tin­ue a con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it... 

With­in your sphere, you have the abil­i­ty to sense neg­a­tiv­i­ty and frus­tra­tion, and help peo­ple to bet­ter under­stand what’s hap­pen­ing... 

The big ques­tion then is, are you aware of your influ­ence? Are you using it?

Asking “how might we” questions

A pow­er­ful tool to help your lead­er­ship is to ask great ques­tions. Yes, there is such a thing as a bad ques­tion. In school, teach­ers some­times say there’s no such thing as a bad ques­tion. Good advice for young stu­dents. Bad advice for adults. There are many WRONG ques­tions that we can ask that we don’t need to be ask­ing. There are WRONG ques­tions we can ask about our spouse or about how things are in the world. Here’s anoth­er exam­ple of a bad ques­tion:

Zoom example of a BAD question.jpg
No. You suck. Bad ques­tion.

Change your ques­tion, change your focus. 

HOW MIGHT WE...”  questions

How might we...” ques­tions allows the brain to engage in the high­er-lev­el think­ing of the brain instead of oper­at­ing out of the low­er-lev­el “fear” mind­set.

In your per­son­al life ...

  • How might I find ways to get 7–8 hours of sleep each night?
  • How might I find more ener­gy each day?
  • How might I go deep­er in my rela­tion­ships?
  • How might we find more ways to spend time togeth­er?
  • How might we cre­ate a less stress­ful envi­ron­ment in our home?
  • How might we spend less time on screens?

In your role as a leader... 

  • How might we bet­ter serve our cus­tomers and clients?
  • How might we moti­vate and employ­ees and staff?
  • How might we cre­ate a fan­tas­tic expe­ri­ence for every­one?
  • How might we best com­mu­ni­cate this idea?

Start asking these questions today!

The best thing is you don’t have to buy any­thing or learn any­thing else to start using “how might we” ques­tions. 

A pow­er­ful exten­sion is to make sure your whole group or team is ask­ing the same ques­tion togeth­er. Change the ques­tions, change the focus. 

This post was inspired by Jake Knap­p’s book, Sprint