One of the hardest things for us to do in business, or in any part of life for that matter, is to question or change an underlying opinion or rationale.
After all, if we’ve thought carefully about our ideas, reasonings, positions and the ways in which we like to conduct ourselves and our business practices, to ask oneself to pause (particularly in front of others) and look at a rationale or position, or to change a process of thought is anathema to the way we humans like to function.
We tend to hold our rationales as precious and dear to us. Oh, yes; we’d very much like to escape the notion that perhaps our line of thinking is either faulty or that it might not stand up to the scrutiny of a critical outsider. For who – in light of their own ‘brilliant’ idea – wants to question its premise? Who wants to admit mid-stream (or at any other time for that matter) that their thinking might be incomplete, flawed, or “Horrors!” that someone else’s idea and the rationale behind it might make more sense?
So it is agreed: You and I sometimes find it difficult to change or even to temporarily put aside an idea or position and the rationale behind it long enough to listen to others. Well, what makes it difficult?
- We tie the idea and its rationale into self-image… into who we think we are… into the sense we have of ourselves. So when our rationale is questioned, we automatically feel that the image we have of ourselves is questioned (and in our eyes, threatened). As a result, we tend to become defensive and resistant.
- We attach our reputation to an idea… to a line of thinking… to a rationale. That’s especially true when we’re making recommendations – when we’re laying that idea out on the table for others to see, for we are putting our abilities on the line when we say to others “do this because I think it’s the way to go”.
- The stakes become even higher when values are involved. If one of the values you hold as a manager is to treat people with respect, you may find it difficult indeed when your employees accuse you of being disrespectful based on a new performance evaluation process you designed and implemented. This doesn’t mean you are (or intended to be) disrespectful, but it may well mean that the rationale you used to design and implement the process might be flawed. Separating your sense of self from your thinking, actions, and impacts is often much easier said than done.
What to do when your line of thinking… your reasoning and therefore your underlying rationale is questioned by others… especially in a meeting?
Are people in the meeting room avoiding your gaze by averting their eyes, or turning or lowering their heads? If so, it’s likely that you’re caught up in defending your line of thinking past the point of reasonableness. So, instead of banging on about the idea, become graceful. IF you have the presence of mind to catch yourself in the moment, consider saying something like: “I think I might be overly attached to this idea and the rationale behind it, so I’d like to step back and hear what others have to say about alternate approaches we might take”.
In another situation, if someone questions your idea or line of reasoning to the point that you feel beleaguered and/or attacked, acknowledge your defensive feeling (it suffices to simply do this in your mind if you’d rather not say it out loud). Then, divert your defensiveness by using a ‘We’re all in this together’ teaming-up approach. For example, consider sitting back in your chair and saying something like: “That’s an interesting point. I obviously see the situation differently, but let’s explore your thoughts. There must be merit to them. What direction do you see us taking and why?” Once the meeting is done and you’ve saved face for yourself and the other party, take a few minutes to look at the original rationale behind your thinking. There is almost certainly something you could learn from re-examining it.
If you don’t manage to catch yourself in the moment (which is an art unto itself) and instead you have a good ole’ argument, no problem; you can always try a “do over”. If you see the error later or you get feedback about it from a colleague or friend, take it to heart and reflect on it. Then, approach the key parties involved and clean up the “mess” via a new conversation. Acknowledge your contribution to the problem and tell them you’d like to re-open the discussion to find a better outcome for all.
At the end of the day, when we have the courage to lower our defences and look at the underlying drivers behind an idea or position… when we have the courage to release our hold on that opinion or rationale long enough to expand our thinking, we open the door to better understandings and true learning, and to outcomes that can be considered truly precious.