Let s return to an element we referred to earlier. It s an important enough issue that it deserves special and repeated attention. As you confront other people, they re likely to want to reduce a problem to its simplest form, one that avoids most of what s actually going on and sidesteps the lion s share of accountability. They want to keep treating the problem, no matter how devilishly recurring, as if it were the first instance.
For example, a salesperson who reports to you has a history of promising discounts that cut too deeply into your profits. In short, she sells out profits to earn her commission. Last week you talked to her about this practice, and she agreed to follow the pricing guidelines. Five minutes ago you overheard her deep-discounting again. You step up to the problem:
Louise, I thought we agreed that you wouldn t sell the product below the standard pricing formula. I just overheard you promising a price that was clearly out of bounds. Did I miss something?
Louise explains that she really needed this commission and was hoping that you would understand. Now what?
You re now at a critical juncture. You have two problems, not one: (1) the price violation, or the content of the problem, and (2) a whole new problem: She didn t live up to her commitment to you. Most people miss this important difference. Unfortunately, if you talk only about the price formula, you re forced to relive the same problem. Savvy problem solvers know better. As new violations emerge, they step up to them:
Let s see if I understand. You agreed not to cut prices, but you wanted the commission, so you did so anyway. Is that right?
This follow-on statement leads to a very different discussion. Instead of talking only about pricing, you re now talking about failing to live up to a commitment. That is a far bigger issue.
To see how it works, here are a couple of examples of how all of the skills come together. We ll start with a simple one: A person who reports to you fails to show up at an important meeting and you don t think he missed it on purpose. You have no story. You invite him into your office, safely describe the gap, and end with a question.
Chris, I noticed that you missed the meeting you had agreed to attend . I was wondering what happened . Did you run into a problem of some kind?
And there you have it: a simple paragraph. You haven t held court . You don t have a story to tell. You take the other person to a private setting, describe the facts (what was expected versus what was observed ), and end with a question. And now you re listening to diagnose the underlying cause.
Let s examine a tougher problem. You re talking to your boss about what s been happening in meetings. You think he or she may become defensive, so you start by creating safety. You establish Mutual Purpose and use Contrasting.
You: I ve noticed myself withdrawing in the last couple of meetings. I know it bugs you when I don t take the initiative, so I ve thought about why I m not doing that. Some of the things I ve realized have to do with how you lead our meetings. I don t want to be presumptuous or tell you how to run meetings, but I believe that if I could discuss this with you, it might help me perform better and would make the climate better for me too. Would that be okay?
Boss: Okay, what s bugging you?
Since you have told yourself a story about what your boss is doing, you share your path , starting with the facts and then tentatively sharing your conclusion.
You: Well, a couple of times in the meeting today when I d start a comment, you d raise your hand toward me and then start speaking before I d finished. I don t know if this is how you mean that, but to me it seems like you think my idea is stupid and it s a way of shutting me down.
Boss: Yeah, I guess I did do that, but you know, I just don t want to pussyfoot around when I disagree with something. Do I have to?
The boss is feeling defensive, and so you step out of the content and build safety.