I recently watched a TED Talk entitled Dare to Disagree. Margaret Heffernan encourages us to seek out opposing points of view to our own and open our mind to what we could learn.
I once had an interesting experience on an assignment. I was in a leadership position and was faced with situation that required an immediate decision—okay, I’ll admit that the word required is a little strong. It wasn’t a crisis, but I didn’t see any reason not to make a decision in the moment. Although I had never encountered this situation before, I made a decision that I thought was within my decision-making authority. Turns out, it wasn’t.
To add insult to an injury I didn’t even know I was inflicting, I acted on that decision. No surprise—I shouldn’t have done that either.
And to make it a true “hat trick,” I went ahead and got a few other people involved, including the client! Ugh!
Fortunately, a couple of people in positions senior to mine found out about my decision, intervened, and disaster was averted. You don’t have to know the decision, the actions I took, or who else was involved to imagine what happened next. Yeah, I got invited to a phone meeting. And I had no idea there was a problem until I was on the call.
As I was being given feedback about the entire situation—the decision not being within my decision-making authority; the potential negative impact of the decision; the implications for our client relationships; the legal, regulatory and compliance problems my decision could have caused; and what I should have done—all wrapped up in a delivery tone of “you should have known these things”—I kept thinking, “How could I have known this [what I was being told in that moment]?”
How could I have known exactly what to do in that situation? How could I have known what to ask or who to ask in that situation? I didn’t even know I needed to ask anyone anything.
I’d never been in this situation before. Based on the variables, my analysis, my experience, my past decisions, and the outcome we were trying to achieve—value-added service to the client—I made what I thought was a good decision. A few other things went through my mind, most of them unproductive and none of them appropriate for this blog. But you get the picture.
My natural inclination was to express the aforementioned thoughts to the person I was meeting with as a way of presenting my case and defending my actions. Instead, I decided to do something different.
I decided to shut off my own background noise and listen.
I decided not to defend, blame, or protect myself, but to listen for something specific: I decided to listen for a solution. Because at the end of it all, a solution was the only thing that was going to help us learn, grow, and most importantly, avoid being in this situation again.
So I let the person I was meeting with continue to speak. As they were speaking, I focused in on the points they were making that would help formulate a solution. When they were finished, I presented back to them the points I had heard that were the solution—and not just the solution to what I should have done in that situation. By listening with a clear and open mind, I was able to formulate the parameters for my decision making which I could now apply to a variety of situations—not only that one.
In the end, we agreed that the decision-making parameters would be as follows;
- CAN DO: If clearly in the Scope of Work.
- CAN’T DO: If not within compliance, regulation and/or legal.
- If not clearly a CAN or CAN’T DO, then CHECK WITH ________ (fill in the blank).
When I focused on the solution vs. the problem, not only did the person I was speaking with agree and express appreciation, they actually verbalized what they had done that caused the problem. Then they apologized, and committed to acting differently going forward.
We have a favorite saying at The Ken Blanchard Companies: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” This is a saying that Rick Tate, who used to be a consulting partner with our company, often said. By being open to feedback, I was able to focus on a solution and turn a potential negative experience into a positive one. I think you will too if you open yourself up to the possibility.
About the author:
Ann Phillips is a Senior Consulting Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies where she specializes in consulting and keynoting on customer loyalty, employee engagement, leadership, organizational change, and team building.