Leader Volume 8, Number 5
Morgen, president of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. in Taos, New
Much of our daily
business communication revolves around seeking and sharing
information. The ultimate goal is to complete our work in the most
effective manner possible. That means, ultimately, finding systems
to discover and align solutions meeting the needs of our
colleagues, staff, and clients.
What we generally
do, as communicators, is offer those requiring information from
us, either: 1) What we
believe is necessary for others to get their needs met, or 2) What
we want others to have.
instances, we decide what information to pass on,
overlooking the possibility that between us we will have more
information available than either of us will ever have alone.
questions we ask are meant to uncover a problem that our
product, our knowledge, our
process can solve. To use the metaphor of sales--as we are all
selling our ideas, thoughts, and opinions--we are
"pitching" our product in one form or another,
regardless of whether or not the other person is seeking to buy.
We become sellers with no buyers, solutions in search of problems.
And without a buyer, there’s no sale.
people make decisions when they come up with their
own solutions. How often have you known you had the right
process, or the right product, or the right idea, only to have it
ignored for something that turned out to be less effective? How
did that happen? It wasn’t because your process or product or idea was
faulty. It was
because the person didn’t know how to use it, or because your
ideas didn't fit in with their
People use their
own beliefs, principles, values and systems with which to make
decisions, and the length of time it takes people to come up with
their own answers is the length of time it takes them to decide.
If we truly want to serve one another, why not help them come up
with their own solutions? Maybe we ought to consider giving up the
need to have the “right” answer.
In order to
communicate so that people discover their own solutions, we would
have to trust that they will arrive at the best solution. Of
course, we could be an integral part of this process by asking
questions that support solution-finding, thereby giving up our
need to be right and to search instead for the best answer.
The answer might be different than anyone could have
Imagine if our
objective in each communication was to support another in
discovering the best solution. Imagine if we believed it were our
responsibility to support each person in uncovering all the
available possibilities, trusting the answer she or he came up
with was indeed the best one, and possibly not attached to our
product or idea.
Let’s look at
the mindset that would create that level of responsibility.
First of all, we
have to believe that each person has their own best answers, and
that our job is to provide questions. Not manipulative questions
leading to our product or idea being the answer, but questions
that support others’ abilities to navigate their own decision
Here are examples
of such questions:
Where are you now, where are you going, and what’s
stopping you from getting there? What would need to happen to get
you where you want to be?
What do you have in place that you could use to solve this
problem? What is still missing? How do you plan to go forward to
You can see that
Support the other person in uncovering criteria for solving
their own problem
Trust the other person to have his or her own answers
Take the responsibility to begin to guide the other through
the decision-making or solution-finding process.
individual and team responsibility and respect. In meetings, this
assumes an answer will come from the whole rather than from one or
Next, we have to
believe that people only change when they recognize something is
missing that they can’t take care of themselves. We only take
aboard or learn something new if what we do doesn’t work.
People would rather fix what they have. As communicators,
our role is to help people navigate their choices to see what
fits. If they can explore each possible solution
thoroughly--something people can’t always do without help
because they are so close to the situation--they will see whether
or not they have an internal fix already, or need to find an
external solution because they really need to correct what is
example. Years ago a major hardware company had a problem: they
were basically giving away an updated computer as a beta to mom
and pop shops that already had purchased the older model. No one
wanted it. They called me to find out what was happening. I called
several places and got the same responses.
SDM: Hi, my name
is Sharon Drew Morgen, with AXC company. How is your current
P: Oh, it’s OK.
SDM: What is
stopping you from getting a computer that is more than OK?
SDM: DAD? What
does that mean?
P: We’re a mom
and pop shop. Dad’s the pop. He handles all the computer
systems. We wouldn’t change anything until he retires.
that called had been pushing computers. For years, companies have
been selling computers, or trying to solve problems their own way,
or using their own brand of communication patterns, when in fact
decisions are made systemically. “Dad” is the reason a company
makes a purchase; not the qualities of a new computer.
The next question
I asked the mom and pop shop aligned their thinking so they could
look at all their systemic
SDM: Are there
any conditions under which you would consider looking at a new
computer at this time?
Half of the Mom
and Pop shops I spoke with said no. Great. They thought about
their needs and were clear that the Dad issue would not be
addressed. No new computer.
The other half
said: "Oh. Can you fax
Dad some info?" or "Can Dad go to a site where their
information is installed so he can see if it would work for
The question I
Assumed they had their own answer by opening the
possibilities for additional information within their existing
Supported them in finding their best internal solution
through a question which led them to a full brain search for
Gave them a way to consider making decisions to solve a
long-standing problem, or supported them in keeping the status
Notice that the
answer was in their experience; but
they didn’t know how or where to access the information until I
asked them a question that had them look at all of their decision
points. I could have spent months attempting to sell them the computer
I thought they needed, but they didn't know how to factor Dad into
Notice, too, that
I had to give up my need to sell them a computer, and support them
in discovering their best solution, separate from my need to sell
a product. Ultimately, it became win-win:
my sales increased, and
everyone discovered their best solutions, whether it included a
new computer or not.
While this is a
very simplistic example, how many of us have our own answers and
don’t know how to search for them?
How many colleagues do we know who will actually assist us
in the discovery process of finding these answers?
Imagine if each
of us took the responsibility to ask the questions that enable
others to find their own answers. It changes staffing problems,
negotiation tactics, and arguments of all sorts. It also supports
people in raising their self-esteem when they discover they hold
their own answers. This
attitude strengthens relationships as well, as it continually
opens collaborations through trust that between
us we will come up with the best answer.
The hardest part
is to detach enough, trust enough, and be willing to let go of our
need to be “right” and understand that, as leaders, our real
job is to serve.