Wouldn’t it be great if every conflict or problem we encountered included this cautionary flag? If every project we took on, had a little pop-up box – like our computers do – warning us to “SEEK CLARITY” before proceeding?
But it’s something we have to discipline ourselves to do for ourselves! We have to sort of interrogate our ideas about a situation when we’re tempted to simply react.
What exactly are we trying to do here?
Do I understand the problem at hand?
Are we arguing about the same thing?
Some problems don’t even become obvious until they are already urgent. But less harried challenges hardly arise in a vacuum.
New business projects often form around existing problems. Make-do fixes are in place. And considerable opinion has formed, throughout the organization, on what is at issue. Bring a group of people from different functional areas together and you’ll have as many perspectives on a problem. Each individual may have their own hopes or fears about potential solutions. Seeking clarity in such situations can be daunting!
I love that improvement methodologies like Six Sigma begin with a “Define” phase. A mandatory first step, Define is much more than a documentation exercise. The project manager and other leaders invest time in forming consensus around the challenge. They identify differences of perspective. They challenge each other to be specific. And they write up Problem statements and Mission Statements with care.
By seeking clarity first, we separate understanding from reacting. We are able to unpack a problem before planning how we will act to resolve it. In this way we gain tremendous leverage:
1. We see where we’ve oversimplified or over-complicated things.
2. We hear the perspectives of people involved, especially their emotional attachment.
3. We touch on the aspects of the problem that need more investigation.
Individuals can find it easy to diffuse conflict this way. But groups may become frustrated where there is a lack of trust and transparency or members feel pressure to act fast.
Seek clarity first to pave the way for successful outcomes. This will, by the way, also build relationships within groups and develop their critical thinking mind set.
ACTION: The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with someone, stop! Set aside your desire to win the argument. Defer your impulse to provide a quick solution or rebuke. Take time to seek clarity first.
Tags: communication, conflict resolution, critical thinking, project management