Mary Rafferty here, in today’s video I want to share an analogy that can be very useful when you find yourself in a conversation with somebody and you have the sense they are not listening to you.
Perhaps you’re trying to get them to understand your viewpoint.
Perhaps it’s about changing what they are doing or how they’re doing something.
But they are not taking on board what you say. You keep explaining why e.g. ‘here’s a better way of doing …’ and they just argue back.
You have that sense you are meeting with a brick wall.
I remember when I was a child and would go to my parents and ask them for something for example, can I go and visit a friend or can I go to a party or can I buy x or y. They would say ‘No’ and I would say ‘But why?’ and they would respond
‘Because that’s the why’
I remember that being one of the most frustrating and disempowering things they could say. You really have a sense of not knowing where else to go with your request when someone says that to you.
It can be like that also in these kinds of conversations.
I did some coaching recently with a manager – let’s call him Paul. He is a team leader in a client services organisation. The organization is changing and part of that change is how the frontline staff are interacting with the clients.
Paul was having a conversation about this with one staff member – Jim. He was explaining the need to have a broader focus, to be seeing more clients, as part of their role and that they needed to be involving other services too in supporting these clients.
But Jim wasn’t having any of it and not open to these changes.
Paul would make another argument for example about how such a change would be good for the client, for the organization and that times are changing and things have to move forward. But Jim wasn’t having any of it. Paul felt a real sense of ‘because that’s the why’ from Jim’s responses.
The metaphor of an iceberg is one of my favorite to depict what happens in these kinds of negotiations or conversations. One tenth of an iceberg is above water and nine tenths below. It’s a little bit like that in these kinds of conversations. Only a small part of what Jim is saying is expressing what’s really going on beneath the surface for him.
In other words, what are the true drivers behind his resistance?
It might be his thinking, his feelings, his concerns, or maybe it’s about his values. Maybe it’s about his identity, how he sees himself. Or perhaps for Jim, it’s the interpretations he has on what the change might mean for him. All of that thinking is more than likely not being expressed in the arguments that Jim is making to Paul.
So why might it be useful for Paul to understand what’s happening for Jim beneath the iceberg?
- Paul needs to have more insight and more understanding of what it was that was blocking Jim, what the underlying reasons behind his resistance were. Was it about fear of change? Was it about his values – perhaps he saw his role in a different way? Maybe he felt that the new version that Paul had proposed of seeing lots of clients and having what might seem like a superficial interaction with lots of clients was contravening his values.
Was it perhaps fear of not having the skills and capabilities required? Was it a fear of too much work?
Until Paul knows, he cannot address those concerns or move the conversation forward in a useful way that starts to look at what would work for both people.
- While I’ve never used the ‘Because that’s the why’ phrase in a workplace, I have been guilty of using it as a parent, with my girls when they were smaller. When I did they would ask me what the reason was…what was my ‘why’. I would find that I’d have to really think about this…why did I not want to let them go to the party or to visit the friend.
That’s very often in the case of Jims of this world. They haven’t thought through why they are resisting something. They don’t think it’s a good idea but haven’t reflected on why this is, for themselves. So by Paul asking about this and exploring it, it helps Jim understand himself better too.
- The third reason is that asking these kinds of questions and showing interest in Jim and his point of view, there will be much better connection and goodwill between him and Paul. And of course good will and connection are an essential prerequisite for any kind of collaboration and cooperation.
So the key takeaway from this video: Most of you will find yourselves in one of those push-pull conversations where you have met ‘iceberg’. You’ve probably started to build one around yourself as well, because in the case above, Paul was also getting quite stuck-in about his way of doing things.
When that happens, somebody’s going to have to get out there with the pick axe and start asking questions. You have to build some mutual understanding first of all, before trying to find ways to meet everybody’s needs and find a workable action plan to move forward.
I hope you found this video useful.
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Thanks for watching