Assume Good Intent, then Ask a Question
We spend a lot of time with our clients helping them learn to become truly open and honest with each other. That requires lots of trust building (which happens in real time during meetings, not out in the woods on rope courses).
It also requires changing some deeply embedded behaviors, one of which is how we respond to comments, ideas and suggestions with which we disagree.
We are never taught how to say difficult things to other people in ways that are both honest and productive. So most of the time we either hold back and don’t say anything, or else we blurt out something judgmental that we’re likely to regret later.
There’s a path between these two options, which is to follow this simple rule: When you feel the bile of confrontation rising in you, assume good intent, then ask a question.
People we work with say things we disagree with all the time. The next time that happens to you, take a breath and remind yourself that the other person almost certainly is speaking and acting in the best interests of the team/company as they understand those interests. Also, remind yourself that there’s a lot you don’t know. As much as you don’t believe it in the moment, the other person just might be right.
So your first job is to inquire, which almost always means asking some form of the question, “What are you seeing that I’m not seeing?”
How does this play out? Let’s say your Head of Operations, whom we’ll call "Scott,” walks into your weekly Leadership Team meeting and announces, “We have to double inventory!” You’ve been watching inventory and you’re pretty sure that if anything, it’s already too high.
You have two options. One is to say, “Scott, that’s the dumbest @#*)$@#!* thing I’ve ever heard! What in the world is wrong with you?!?” The other is to say something like, “Scott, I’m sure you have some very good reasons for thinking that we need to double inventory, but I’m not seeing it. Can you do me a favor and try to help me connect those dots?”
It takes a little practice to make this a habit. When you do, instead of putting Scott on the defensive, you’re actually elevating his sense of status by asking him to educate you. You’ll get his thinking on the table. When you have it, you might conclude that it is in fact the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard and that there is something seriously wrong with Scott. That might lead to a different kind of uncomfortable conversation, which you can read about here.
But you might also find out that he’s right.
Either way, you’ll have gotten there through a discussion rather than an argument. You’ll have built trust, increased the health of your team and made a better decision.
Seems like an easy call.