How many times have you, and others in your organization, heard proposed ideas recommendations, or strategies that had flaws or other potential problems, but you didn’t know what to say, or how to say it?

And you didn’t want to offend the person who presented them, so you said nothing? We’ve all probably done this.

As a result, the person with the idea or recommendation, along with other people, didn’t get the benefit of hearing your concern; being able to consider it; and potentially resolving it.

Perhaps the item was tabled until the next meeting (otherwise known as “kicking the can down the road”), or perhaps a “meeting after the meeting” was held with only a few people present to determine what, if anything, could be done.

Instead of sitting in silence, other people criticize ideas, creating resentment, and a less-than-productive debate about its pros and cons, instead of working to move forward.

And of course we consider who’s speaking. If it’s the boss, we’re careful about what we say, and wisely so if the boss hasn’t communicated a practice of hearing contrary opinions in a way that’s safe and comfortable for all.

As a result, some groups hold meetings again and again, spend lots of time, and still end up dealing with the same issues in the next meeting, and the one after that. They’re getting nowhere fast. We’ve all likely been here as well.

It’s one reason so many people dread meetings, find them frustrating, and an annoying waste of time. Because they too often are.

In addition, there are times when useful ideas that would be beneficial if a flaw was resolved, get discarded instead. More lost ideas and time.

So what can we, and others, do?

Many, if not most, ideas have some merit. So we’ll begin by identifying the merit it has. (Keep in mind that we’re not talking about ideas that are patently absurd, unethical, or that have one or more insurmountable flaws).

Many ideas that have some merit also have a potential flaw.

Here’s a situation from earlier this year that one of my clients struggled with, and one I helped them learn a new skill to effectively and comfortably resolve. I’ve abbreviated some of the logistics involved in training it.

An improved software design requested by a customer was presented for review and discussion. It appeared to meet the customer’s specifications by providing more flexibility.

To one person, it also appeared to have a serious potential flaw. She might have torpedoed the idea, and likely created resentment by saying something like, “this won’t work,” or “there’s a big problem with this, so I can’t approve it,” or worse yet, criticizing it as in “why is it that you development people never see the obvious?!”

Instead, she said this:

I appreciate that this improved design will be much more flexible for our customer to use, just as they asked for.  Good.”

My concern is that  it could violate security requirements, putting our customer at risk.” (Others concurred with her).

“What can we do?”

  • “How can we be certain the improved design is flexible, and also secure?”
  • “What are our options? Let’s see how we can solve this.” (The group listed several options, then requested that the designers proceed from there and report back).

I’ve boldfaced the steps in this skill above so you can readily see its components.

Why is this communication skill effective?

In the first step (“I appreciate”), the person states the merit that the idea has, beginning with a genuine and positive point.

In the second step (“My concern”), she describes what the concern is, and why it’s a concern. What don’t you hear in what she’s said? You don’t hear attack, criticism, blame, anger, negativity, etc., greatly reducing the likelihood of creating resentment. And an unproductive conversation, including arguments.

In the third step (“What can we do?”), she asks open-ended questions of the group in order to brainstorm and work to potentially solve the concern, creating a positive path towards possible solutions. 

In addition, she was careful to use a neutral tone of voice, and calm body language.

An important question for you and the people you work with:if someone has a concern, or sees a potential flaw in something you’ve submitted, isn’t this how you want them to work with you?

When proposed ideas, strategies, recommendations, assigned projects and tasks are responded to by identifying their merit; expressing a concern without attacking; and working to resolve the concern when possible, more good work gets done in less time with better feelings about working together. 

It’s what happens in more productive workplaces. 

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