It’s a phenomenon I come across often in the consulting I do: a senior team is working through a challenge and though everyone is smart and knowledgeable conversations get off track, they meander into the weeds, and the energy in the meeting drops.
That’s the focus of this week’s blog: understanding why conversations take that turn and drawing on the six attributes to help us get back on track.
From a six attributes perspective, three attributes tell us why we might head into the weeds: flexibility of mind, enterprise thinking, and mindfulness. Today I’d like to concentrate on mindfulness, but before I do, let’s take a pit-stop on the other two.
“I don’t want to take us into the weeds but…”. Hear Charlie Cherished say that and you know what’s coming next: a cherished idea. Flexibility of mind (or more precisely, a cherished idea that’s getting in the way) is often a driver of drifting off course in a conversation. Think of it like this: Charlie has a cherished idea, and at every given opportunity he’ll voice that idea. It doesn’t matter if the point is only tangentially connected with the discussion at hand, it’s a chance to voice his cherished idea and you better believe Charlie’s gonna take it. I’ve written elsewhere about cherished ideas but for now, my point is this: derailing a conversation with a cherished idea is the shortest, fastest route to a circular conversation.
And then there’s enterprise thinking. While phrases like, “I can’t see that working for my area”, may be true; they also nudge a discussion out of flow. If a solution doesn’t work for all business units, that’s something we need to address in the meeting. If it doesn’t work for one, that’s something we can address off-line. In this case, enterprise thinking is knowing that the discussions of a senior team are enterprise level discussions. It’s a place to discuss enterprise issues, and challenges in business units that affect the enterprise. Of course, that doesn’t mean business unit challenges are the sole problem of the business unit leader. There’s a time when the senior team can help on unit challenges, maybe share best practices, even join forces to help problem solve. But that’s my point: there’s a time and place. Is the midst of a senior team discussion that time?
Mindfulness as Antidote
Answering that question depends on the attribute of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about being present. Practically it’s about being self-aware in the moment so we can see what’s really unfolding – both for ourselves and in the situation in front of us.
Mindfulness is the antidote to both the challenges in flexibility of mind and enterprise thinking I’ve outlined above. How does Charlie Cherished know he’s laboring under a cherished idea? How do we know we’ve drifted out of enterprise thinking?
The answer to both of those questions is self-awareness. Mindfulness in other words.
Self-awareness is having the ability to step out of ourselves and see what’s going on around us without our biases, or how we think things should be.
The Alien Head
One thing that helps me keep that level of seeing comes from War of the Worlds. In the original movie, the aliens had an “eye” that was raised above their bodies. In the movie along with using it to see, it also shot people with it, but let’s ignore that.
For me it helps to imagine I have that hoovering eye about two feet above my head – an alien head above me if you like. Imagining that “alien head’ helps remind me to keep my focus on what’s happening around me.
The alien head gives me the gift of seeing the effect I’m having on the meeting in front of me. It helps me to see. And because of that, I can choose how to act, and what to say.
Making Like Easier
Like everything about the six attributes, that’s not easy. So what can we do to make mindfulness, not easy, but easier?
There’s a mnemonic that’s been around for a while that helps create that space of self-awareness. It’s WAIT and usually stands for Why Am I Talking? It gives us pause to check that what we’re about to say isn’t a cherished idea, isn’t driven by self-interest, and moves the conversation on.
But there’s a twist to WAIT. What if it stood for Why Am/Aren’t I Talking? Now we have the space to ask ourselves if there’s something we can see that adds to the conversation, that could help to keep it on track, that we’re not saying.
Seeing isn’t just about tightening our lip, it’s also about stepping into the leadership space to find the courage to say what we need to say to help the whole team. If that means highlighting a cherished idea in others or a limited focus in the room, that as leaders why aren’t we saying that?
With WAIT, we have the inward and outward barometer to focus on ourselves and help our team stay focused.