As you finish a crucial confrontation, there s a danger that despite your efforts to bring to the surface all the causes behind an ability problem, you still have unfinished business. The person still isn t motivated. How could that happen? This typically occurs when you describe the problem and the person immediately identifies an ability barrier . People tend to point to ability issues because they re less threatening . Never mind the fact that they also have conflicting priorities.
That brings us to our point. The fact that people start by identifying an ability block doesn t guarantee that once it s removed, they ll want to do what they ve promised to do. Once you ve finished identifying and removing ability barriers, pop the question. Ask: If I get the workup to you by two o clock, are you willing to do what it takes to finish the job by five, or is there something else I need to know?
Popping the question means that you end a discussion of ability by checking for motivation. Of course, it goes both ways. If a person starts with Do you really want me to do that? It s such a pain. and you spend time explaining the natural consequences until he or she agrees to comply, there s a chance the person may also be facing an ability barrier or two. Once the person has agreed to comply , pop the question. Check for ability problems: It sounds like you re willing to do this, but is there anything standing in your way? Is there anything else we need to deal with, or can I count on you having this to me by Tuesday at nine?
Once you ve dealt with motivation, check ability. If you start with ability, check motivation. Remember to pop the question.
Let s end our discussion of ability problems by considering a difficult case. You want to brainstorm root causes with another person but don t have the authority to do so.
For instance, your boss promises to give you a hand with customers during peak hours, but he s routinely unavailable when you need him. Are you really going to have to motivate your boss to live up to his promise? Is that what s going on? One thing is certain: You want to get to the root cause. Does he dislike helping out because he doesn t like working with hostile customers? Does he think the work is beneath him? Are other priorities more important? Has he forgotten how to do the job?
You don t know what s actually going on here. Your only goal is to talk to your boss, identify the real forces behind his not helping, and learn if the problem is going to go away or if you re going to have to find a way to live with it. That means you have to encourage your boss to join with you as you jointly brainstorm reasons he isn t doing what he promised to do. Or if you re in a real hurry, you could just step in front of a moving train.
We ve talked about this before. If you lack the authority to require another person to discuss root causes, you can do so only by permission. So ask for it. If you do have the authority, ask for it anyway: Since we agree on the problem, could we take a few minutes to talk about what s in the way of solving it? I d like to be as helpful as I can in making it easy to avoid the problem in the future. Would that be okay?
Perhaps the most gracious way to open the door to a complete discussion of underlying causes is to ask if you are adding to the problem. When you take responsibility for your contribution, you make it safe for other people to do the same thing: My goal is to solve the problem. I m particularly interested in learning about anything I might be doing to contribute to the challenges you face.
People often feel unsafe discussing root causes because they fear that any analysis will make them look weak or selfish. If they re not able, that s bad. If they re not motivated, that may look worse . You need to change this view. Your job in leading a root-cause discussion is to let others know that you see them as people of worth who are currently unable to do what s expected. This isn t about fixing their character; it s about fixing a problem.
One of the best ways to assure others that you re not going to get angry when you learn the root cause is to prime the pump, or take your best guess at possible causes, without looking stressed, miffed, or judgmental. This helps others start the flow of information by making it safe for them to speak honestly. Priming works only if you take your best guess in a way that tells the other person that you re okay with him or her admitting to what you just described. Word choice, body language, and tone of voice make a huge difference. Consider the following question: Is that too hard for you?
Now read the line in a patronizing way. Next, do it in anger. To draw on your real talents, read the line with sarcasm. Finally, try to be respectful. Imagine that this is a person you care about and genuinely want to help. How does that affect your delivery?
When it is done well, priming provides others with real-time visible evidence that you re not going to demean or criticize them for honestly discussing the real issues. In short, your success depends on whether you see other people as human beings or villains . If you ve come to see others as people you want to help succeed, most of the time you ll do just fine.