Friday, 24 May 2013

Accountability That Rests On “Tell Me More”

A significant responsibility of those in leadership is to hold others accountable for their opinions and/or for actions they have taken.  Holding others accountable is a difficult task at best and at worst, it leaves those with whom we are working feeling dismayed or even destroyed.  Is it possible to hold someone accountable while allowing them to walk away from our conversation with them with their head held high?  I offer the following phrase as a starting point:  “Tell me more.”

Let us assume that you are leading a meeting and someone at this meeting has offered an opinion with which you disagree.  And let assume that the opinion that was offered was laced with an ounce or two of bitterness, possibly over a decision that did not go as the speaker had anticipated.  Our temptation in these moments is simply to respond to the statement that was made, offering information and possibly defending the decision that was made.  The problem with this approach is that as we defend our position, the speaker tends to become defensive as well.  And in their defensiveness, the speaker entrenches into his/her position.  Further, the speaker has not been effectively held accountable for the opinion they offered – an opinion sometimes based on limited information.
Alternately, let us consider the impact of the phrase:  “Tell me more.”  When the speaker offers their opinion and we respond with a curious question or an invitation for them to tell us more, two things happen:   
1) The speaker must back up their opinion with more information – this is a form of inviting accountability on the part of the speaker for the statement he/she has just made.  
 2)  As the speaker shares more about his/her opinion, he/she is more likely to feel heard, especially if we listen well.
Most people do not actually need to agree with the decision that was made.  What they do need is to feel as though they have been heard – that they have had a voice in whatever issue is being addressed.  “Tell me more” not only ensures people feel heard, in the process it also holds the speaker accountable for the opinion he/she is offering – but doing so in a way that meets the speaker’s need (to be heard) and your own need (to encourage accountability) at the same time.  For a three word phrase, this is not a bad deal at all.

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