Questioning our own motivation

A while back I told a story in which a team questioned why I wanted them to show their current work on a whiteboard. They thought it was because I didn’t trust them, although that was not my motivation.

An important part of that incident was questioning my own motivation when challenged. To me the benefit was instinctive, so I had to think for a moment to put it into words.

Every so often I will suggest something to someone, they will reply with what I see as a reasonable challenge, and yet I still believe my original suggestion is a good one.

In those situations a poor course of action is to just dig in and try to override their reasonable challenge. I find a much more useful approach is to ask myself why I really suggested that thing in the first place, and talk about that. This may even involve correcting what I originally said.

For example, some colleagues once needed to have a meeting about prioritisation and suggested a particular approach. I said they shouldn’t do it like that and suggested an alternative, because in my experience that alternative worked better. However I couldn’t defend the “in my experience” argument, because I couldn’t transfer my experience into their heads.

But what I could do is talk about the bad experiences I’d had with their approach, and we all agreed we didn’t want that to happen this time. When I questioned my own motivation it wasn’t about running the meeting my way or their way, it was about avoiding a particular outcome.

In the end we worked out how to run the meeting their way and still avoid the bad outcome I’d experienced before. My original suggestion was rejected, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was a positive outcome to the meeting.

When I hear a reasonable objection and question the motivations behind my original idea I am often happy to correct or dismiss that original idea and talk instead about the reason behind it. This takes things up level, and is preferable to digging in.

It’s better to admit to being wrong than to force through something that doesn’t withstand questioning or which people don’t believe in.

As I often remind myself in these situations, it’s the outcome which matters, and if there’s a short term cost to pride, then so be it.

Photo by Mike Gifford