When I was a kid (and teenager… oh, well still today too) I messed up a lot. I forgot things or did them in a stupid order and all of a sudden I was in an emergency. For example, I forgot that I should be in a rehearsal 1 hour away and here I was in my home, 2 hours from the rehearsal room.
Quite often in those situation someone, my parents predominantly, of course enlighten me about how stupid this was and gave helpful advice on what I should have done instead in order to not ended up here.
This made me
very mad a little upset, since those advice didn’t
improve my situation one bit. I often “told” them (talk about re-writing
history) about the futility of these tips at this point.
Years after, in my twenties I found support from one of the old Greek philosophers, Aesop, the guy with the fables, in this quote:
Help me first and argue with me later.
(Didn’t find a English translation for this sadly, so this is Greek to Swedish to English)
I have found use for that quote and what it teaches us later in my career. Most recently yesterday.
In this post I wanted to show you how I handle this in a more structured way. Right now I’m involved in handling an emergency situation. It’s literarily closing the business at stake here. We have put an emergency team into place and we have the full attention from the company management and others involved. At a daily basis we meet each morning and talk about the most pressing matters and how they have progressed since yesterday (now where have I heard about this before…).
In these discussions quite often we slip and start to talk about things that is not helping us in the moment. For example:
- We haven’t got this document, because X had not finish it on time?
- That happened because then Y worked here and he…
- I didn’t know about that?! How can I be expected to….
My short (and rude answer) to all of these are:
I don’t care. Can we now move on?
Of course I don’t say that, but this is exactly what 14 year old Marcus (and 8-13, 15-42 year old Marcus also have done) was subjected to. It’s a great question, and maybe even important. But not now. Right now we’re trying to solve the situation at hand.
Help me first and argue with me later.
In this situation it’s easy to get angry (and I sure have been a number of times), but I have now come up with another, more structured way to handle this. And it has pointed to an interesting fact about these comments.
Most important is to meet people in this need to air their disappointment. I often let them state their case and then, just before we’re entering discussion I say something like, as polite as possible:
Thank you for your comment. But right now we don’t have time to talk about this.
Later, when we’re out of this crisis, I would love to talk more about this. We can then spend hours on it. Let’s write it down here so that we make sure that we don’t forget it.
I then write the item on the board, under the heading “Talk about later”. I keep this list with me on a paper and make sure to bring it to every meeting, so that the question is not forgotten.
Don’t make this into a heckle (which is VERY easy to do). Remember that the question was important enough for the person to air in public and hence it should be treated with respect. Even though you find it silly, maybe. More on that later.
After you have noted the question get back to the matter at hand. In the client I am with right now I often have to reemphasize that:
I don’t care about how we got here. I care about being better from where we happen to be right now.
Rinse and repeat
I do this for every question that occurs in the meeting that is not bringing you forward. Make sure that anyone can put up questions. It’s for example very likely that I myself say something that is not bringing us forward. I too should get the opportunity to post my question for later.
As most of you probably have guess this form have a couple of effects and noteworthy properties:
- Quite often the person doesn’t want to have their item posted. Hence she didn’t think it was important enough to talk about later.
- The things posted on the list almost always talk about the past
- The things posted on the list often talk about “others” and seldom about “us”
- After having the paper of “Later’s” being carried around and shown at every meeting it’s not uncommon that people ask me to take their item down.
- Once we get around to booking the meeting (I have never actually held one) all of the things on the list are “not interesting” anymore. Since we’ve now handled the emergency and can work as normal again. They are at least not interesting enough that you want to take time out of the normal schedule to hold this meeting.
I’m probably violating all kinds of principles here, most likely I’m being violent in my communication (have never understood NVC, I’m sorry to say). But I really really try not to use this as punishment, make people ashamed of themselves or ironically.
The fact that most things (all?) that we put on the list proves not to be important enough to talk about later, in the mind of the person airing the idea in the first place, tells me that it’s probably not very useful spending time on in the meeting in the first place.
This works for me. I hope you can find parts of this that you can use.
Oh, one more things (as they say), does it really have to be an emergency for us not to keep focus on the matter and hand. Not spending time on whose fault this is? Not complaining about something that happened a few years ago? Not blaming the people working here a couple of years ago? At least not now. But later, when we’re not doing this important thing that we’re doing now?
Would it be good or bad?