Many situations seem to require being focused and broad at the same time; being specialist as well as generalist.
That appears to be a contradiction, a dichotomy—one that needs very careful handling if a group of people is involved, and a considerable challenge to manage successfully.
If we suggest focusing an organisation, for example, in one or more particular areas, the people involved in the non-preferred areas are likely to resist because they feel threatened. But we possibly didn’t intend any real downside for them. It’s more that we hope to grow certain emerging strengths.
Alternatively, if we aim to keep everyone happy, we may fail to develop the concentration of effort necessary to achieve significant breakthroughs.
Chances are what we really require is a relative emphasis on certain areas that may yield superior returns on effort, not a major upheaval.
Our biggest challenge, in fact, may be to convey the subtlety of what we intend so that we don’t “frighten the horses” whose support we need. Managing the situation with the necessary sensitivity and spreading that ethos throughout the organisation could be harder than—and just as vital as—the actual choice of areas of focus.
In other words…
The subtlety is the point.
Flexibility is a good thing.
Sometimes—and about some things—we need to be inflexible: We need to have boundaries. We need to decide what we are going to accept and what we are not going to accept. Actually, we probably already know, deep down (we can tell by what upsets us—that’s a signal), we just need to articulate the parameters properly to ourselves, and our colleagues, if they’re involved.
Then we need to make our boundaries clear and visible to those we are interacting with, whose compliance we need—and whose liberty-taking is causing us problems.
Funnily enough, it can be in the other party’s interest to be compelled to act in a certain way if they want a particular outcome. They may benefit from that kind of influence.
For example, having high expectations of the time-keeping and focus of participants in events and workshops may actually be part of the learning. They need—maybe in some ways want—to be called out on their distracted behaviour, like checking their phones for email, or just not turning up at all.
Rather than being soft and accommodating, we may be more help to people if we set fair boundaries, communicate them clearly, and are robust in their defence.
How are your boundaries looking?
Learning something isn’t the same as accepting it, necessarily. We don’t have to commit to agreeing with something before, or even as, we learn it. And often we can’t evaluate some new piece of knowledge or a new skill properly until we have thoroughly understood it—tried it out even.
Sometimes we can only learn by doing. Some knowledge can only be gained through experience.
It’s a good idea, therefore, to defer judgement until the learning has taken place—until we have the whole picture.
Being sceptical every step along the way isn’t an effective learning strategy because it slows down the process.
It’s wise—and quicker—to be open-minded. And to experiment.
Like it or not, we find it hard to engage with dry, factual, objective communication. We need the information, of course, but nevertheless we find a “thesis” hard to access and to assimilate.
Instead, even though we know we maybe shouldn’t, we find it easier to connect with something exciting, something that touches us emotionally, something vivid. We’re captivated by the story and the drama. We hear the message within—and what’s more we remember it.
There’s a time and a place for rigorously argued, dispassionate material, and there’s a time and a place for emotional intensity.
Can we deliver both, as the occasion requires?
If we want to move people, there’s no getting away from it…
We need a thriller not a thesis.
The phrase “critical friend” is sometimes used to describe the role of a trusted adviser and, in particular, one who is prepared to tell you something you might not really want to hear—but do need to hear.
The role is reasonably widely understood, but that doesn’t mean it’s a commodity, or even really a service to be bought. It does depend on there being a real and genuine connection between the people involved. They need to care.
To be a critical friend, you need to start by being a friend.