Jedi Talking – Five Questions Reveal Approaches to Influence

Sometimes in life and work, we become convinced of a need to change before most of those around us. Either we read the tea leaves, or we see the bigger picture, or some how we just were able to jump through the problem straight to a potential solution. Maybe we have worked through all the analysis in our mind and have a detailed idea that could be a slam dunk, a quick win, or a major turn-around for the organization. The problem is simply that everyone else is stuck in the status quo. Maybe they don’t see the problem clearly yet, maybe they just are not willing give what change requires – or maybe they just see the obstacles to change as being unavoidable or worse, unforeseeable. Maybe they see the risk of the change as many times larger than the risk embedded in the problem.

You have tried telling them. You had tried to convince others that your idea is good, that it will work. You have “told them until you are blue in the face.” Somehow, you end up coming off as unhelpful. People generally get defensive when you try to tell them about the problem, you can’t even get the solution on the table.

Perhaps the issue is not that your analysis is weak, or your solution is not worthy, but only that it is not shared. How do you get others to share your perspective, and to help champion your ideas? How do you get them to understand that the status quo (which they have been working hard to build and keep going) is going to turn out to be insufficient to achieve the larger vision? How do you get them to “disinvest” themselves in the way things are, so that they can invest in a new idea? How do you get them to be open to your ideas, instead of getting defensive?Continue Reading

Is It Me?

Occasionally – I will get into a conflict with someone, and I don’t know why. When I look back at the conversation, what I remember, it becomes apparent that either I baited someone into an argument, or vice versa.

Sometimes this happens because I attach connotative meaning to something someone says because I think I know what he or she means. Other times I have some history that comes to bear, so I project that history on top of something. In either case, the conversation becomes broken, and communication stops.

Inevitably, it turns out that I have tried to read meaning into something that someone didn’t intend, or maybe they did, but didn’t expect anyone to pick up on it, and so they are embarrassed that it was noticeable. Perhaps the best thing to do is to act as if everyone communicates superficially, and straight, and to simply communicate back at that level. To not read anything into other peoples statements and questions.

By ignoring perceived hidden agendas, ulterior motives, personal biases – my communication becomes straight; to the point. Not balled up in other peoples issues. As an analyst, I tend to try (too hard) to unwind this stuff and sometimes get wrapped around the axle in doing so. I react to my perceptions of others’ motive and agendas, rather than simply communicating facts and my opinions (when asked), I let my opinions of others interfere with communication.


Have you ever received a communication that raised more questions than it

A defect report that doesn’t describe expected result, only that the
feature is broken?

A review of a draft document with a sweeping condemnation of the content,
without example or recommendation of desired changes?

A project status report indicating that the project is experiencing some
issue, but no assessment of the impact of that issue or options to overcome

In each of these examples there are some questions that recipients ask

1) Why should I care? – the sender has not given me enough information to
assess the priority or urgency of a response.

2) What should I do? – the sender has not asked for any specific response.
How can I know that any response that I make will improve the situation.

3) Who is responsible? – especially if there are multiple recipients of the
communication, will someone else “take” this one?

The sender has (consciously or unconsciously) assigned all responsibility
to the recipient(s) for understanding the nature, impact priority, urgency,
cause, resolution. He has assigned all decision rights, and responsibility
for communication as well. This creates a “hot potato” where by “touching”
it I risk getting burned.

So when sending communications make sure you “speak” with enough speficity
to allow recipients to respond with confidence. Review your outbound
communication as if you were the recipient. What questions would this
raise for you? How would you respond?

Productive communication

Sometimes I get e-mail at work where the thread consists of a long chain of
short messages, and in order to determine the needed response, it is
necessary to contemplate the thread from beginning to end. This is
especially heinous in corporations where required e-mail sigs and
disclaimers are chunky.

As each person adds their response, this contemplation becomes more and
more expensive.. Some times it almost feels like some folks are playing
ping-pong and responding just to get “the ball in someone else’s court.”

To make the conversation more productive, it would help to summarize the
conversation periodically within the thread – that alone would reduce the
processing time required by each participant. Take the extra 5 minutes to
clean up. It will bring the issue to conclusion faster.