Updated: Jan 11
Think about an evening when you had to go out but just couldn’t be bothered. If you’re like me, you’ll sit there and think up a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t go.
“It’s raining”, “I’m too tired”, “they’re not my kind of people”, “the food will be terrible”, and so it goes. With every new reason we think up as to why we shouldn’t go, it becomes harder and harder to move off the couch.
Have you ever noticed what happens when you get up and start moving? The excuses fall away. We change the dialogue in our head and begin to come up with reasons why we could go. With every new thought, we become more and more motivated to step out the door, and in the end, we are often glad that we did.
How we feel about something determines what action we take, if any, and the quality of that action. If we can shift our mindset enough to take small but resourceful steps, these actions themselves work to shift that mindset further, in ways that better serve the outcome we desire.
In the workplace, as at home, we assess a situation in either a positive or negative way. We can all talk ourselves into not doing things; with every objection we pile on our list of “why not’s”, we become more and more certain about our way of thinking, and less likely to take the action required to make it happen.
Our reasoning becomes the evidence to support the conclusions we draw, and we ignore everything that could counter this belief. We would be well advised to remind ourselves that our thoughts are not the facts in any given situation. When your staff are determined to convince you that a particular course of action is a bad idea, this is the process they will have been through, either individually or with their peers, usually both.
Let’s face it, sometimes the decision is a bad one, but it’s outside of your control, in which case the only way to minimise the potential fallout is to get everyone on board. Unfortunately for you, nobody’s moving. It’s called procrastination, and whenever you run a progress check you get a raft of reasons why it shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be done.
You hear them out to a degree, and either get frustrated because they have no other solution, or you can see that the reasons they have provided are somewhat subjective and ignore the urgency of the challenge that needs to be resolved. Typically when faced with these circumstances, a manager will take a defensive stance. They will either talk over the top of them, shutting down those objections as they come up one by one, or worse, take the project out of their hands altogether.
Both of these strategies only encourage staff to become part of the problem. What you need are for their ideas to become part of the solution
So how do we get constructive contributions from our team members when difficult decisions need to be implemented?
The next time your team is running through a list of reasons why it shouldn’t be done, ask them to stop for a moment and consider how it could be done. If staff are telling you what they cannot do, ask them what they can do. If they tell you something won’t work, ask them what might work. If it didn’t work in the past, ask them what they could do differently this time around to improve that outcome. And my personal favourite, if they tell you they don’t know how to do something, ask them “what if you did know”, the look on their face is priceless (what it really means is how do you find out). Expect these questions to throw your staff slightly off balance; that is exactly what they’re supposed to do. With quality questions, we can switch the dial on the radio they’ve been listening to in their heads so they can tune in to a new station, one that motivates them to take resourceful action. Instead of complaining, they are now actively trying to solve the problem with you.
The key here is to be patient, and this means getting out of the way and allowing staff to explore the possibilities for themselves. They talk, and you listen. By allowing them to contemplate the possibilities at the opposite end of the spectrum, it is possible to create a more opportunistic and less defeatist state of mind. Only when you see that mental shift, then is the appropriate time to share your insights into the challenge. Your objective is to build a bridge so that you can meet in the middle.
Informed decisions are made by considering all sides of a challenge; so don’t let staff get away with presenting you with only one side of an argument. For their own professional growth, they need to be exposed to the challenges of leadership early in their careers. If nothing else, it will help them to respect your position and move forward when difficult decisions are made.
Originally published on Quora. Follow me at Step Up to Leadership.