Slow Down Your Knee-jerk Reaction

When a colleague says something way off the mark, give them the benefit of your consideration.

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Michael Wade

You’re in a meeting, and someone says something that is so stupid you can barely contain yourself.

Slow down.

Your first job, when confronted by an assertion that appears to be way out in left field, is to determine the other person’s view of reality. One psychologist suggests trying to imagine what reality would have to resemble in order for the other person’s viewpoint to be rational.

For example: Ted makes what seems to be a ridiculous remark about an employment selection process. Rather than launching an immediate attack, Ted’s colleagues ask him to elaborate. They learn that Ted holds a very different view of the initial screening stage. Although they regard the stage as professional and job-related, Ted believes it is superficial and biased. If you hold Ted’s belief, his initial description is completely sound.

It helps to start with the assumption that other people are operating in good faith. Instead of trying to score debating points, the savvy listener seeks to gain clarification. Clarity is favored over winning because the issue is to be explored and not batted about like a tennis ball.

There is a time and place for devil’s advocates, but that role should kick in after the viewpoints are clarified. Adopting an unduly adversarial approach early on will stifle, not promote, honest discussion. Keeping the door open to fresh, and possibly even controversial, ideas can help to prevent groupthink. We improve our decision-making and we often learn that the other person is not completely crazy after all.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.