Significant Differences, Strong Emotions, High Stakes…
Three senior leaders are faced with a crisis situation in their business. Because of their roles and responsibilities, it is up to them to address the issue at hand which has many moving parts and impacts hundred if not thousands of people- employees, customers, vendors and shareholders.
The pressure is on. They have been at it for hours and while they greatly respect one another, they disagree vehemently about the best way forward. It is a complex matter, nothing that had worked in the past was going easily adapted to solve this new challenging problem. Finally, exhausted by their deliberations, one of them suggests they take a break for an hour and leave the building for a walk. The others are reluctant, after all their teams are just outside the door anxiously awaiting the magic “solution” this trio was charged with devising. They get up, stretch their weary bodies and leave the building.
Before they part ways for the next 60 minutes, one of them suggests they consider a simple question.
“What are you most curious about when you consider this situation?”
Off they went....
An hour later, they return to the room and share their responses to the question. One answers “I am curious about how the people most impacted by this situation view it.” Another shares “I am curious about what insights our people might have who have been part of this work in the past.” And the final one, “I am beginning to see where we are stuck and a different story of how we might move next is starting to emerge in my mind.”
They regroup and invite a small but diverse group of stakeholders into the dialogue. While the time constraint is real, they also now understand that there is no clear solution, but with broader perspective and input they begin to see the next key move to make.
They are not going to ‘architect’ a solution in the abstract, but rather are going to work real time and collaboratively as they explore new approaches.
More than one experiment will be run and then debriefed to share learning and see new possibilities.
Now, this approach will not work in life or death situations. But if you know anything about elite teams, you know that even when a split-second decision is needed, they have trained and disciplined themselves to pause and breathe deeply, as they know that this opens up the brain to see a bigger picture and more options clearly.
How often do you create space for this kind of pause when you are in a conflict with another person? Or when a significant difference emerges?
In the landmark book Crucial Conversations, the authors lead us through a process that is designed to address situations when “Opinions vary, Stakes are high and Emotions runs strong.” The pathway they lay out moves us to a place of ‘dialogue’ which they define as ‘the free flow of meaning’. Dialogue (also the opposite of monologue) is that remarkable space that gets created where we can actually listen and see what the other person is saying, when we can get curious, where we make meaning out of a differing view, not preparing our rebuttal and counter argument, but rather to actually learn and discern if another pathway forward might be possible.
The only way I have ever seen differences worked through to good end (which does not always include resolution, by the way) is when substantive dialogue is present. This includes the ability to:
Deeply listen with real empathy (the ability to step into the other person’s shoes and experience what they are experiencing).
Own your part- no difference is 100% one sided, a careful self-examination is required to get really clear on how you have contributed to the difference. Remember the only person you are in charge of or can control is yourself.
Get clear on what you really want from this situation or issue. (And what you do not really want to have occur)
Do a check-up of your own heart- do you really want a solution, or do you just want to be ‘right’?
We deal with real differences—significant differences with high stakes and strong emotions—every day, and individual differences are often indications or have implications for deeper systemic brokenness that may need to be addressed.
Complexity requires us to recognize that many issues and differences cannot be resolved to a ‘right answer’. Rather, it requires us to pause, listen with curiosity and generatively take next steps, without necessarily ‘figuring out’ the outcome.
Where in your life right now are experiencing a ‘crucial conversation’ with high stakes, strong emotions and significant differences? How might you step back, get curious, examine your own heart and what you really want to move forward differently?
This is essential to the work of navigating in a complex world. And it is among the top leadership capacities we must cultivate if we are to be effective in our everyday work in the VUCA world we live in today.