Understanding Can Be Difficult if There Is Confrontation

When trying to share some knowledge or raise issues, I try to lead the audience (audience being an individual, team or community) on a thought trail rather than pointing out issues directly or just imparting the answer. By laying out a path of thinking, the audience is more likely to engage with the concepts or information you are imparting and become involved in path to the answer. Once on the path, the audience is more likely to accept the outcome.

Okay, so how do you start a thought trail, it sounds like a long, drawn out, boring process!

Start with the problem statement rather than a question

Using the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_method of understanding is beneficial to the person who is playing the role of Socraties as they are able to drill down in to the real meaning and understanding of another person. However, asking a hard question (Why often being a hard question at times - if you don’t know why you do something) and making people feel they should have the answers at their finger tips is not as conducive to knowledge sharing or collaborative problem solving.

Empathise with the audience that have the problem, make that audience feel you are or have been in their situation, this will make them feel warmer and more receptive to what you have to say.

Examples of the different approaches

Socratic Question: Why are you talking to a reporting copy of a 3rd party database that is a day old rather than talking to the application in real time?

Empathy statement: I am concern that we are doing a lot of work to integrate with this application and the information may be out of date. If the schema changes then we may have a broken system and have to carry out a lot of rework under pressure from our angry customers. If we were able to talk to the application directly and ask it questions, perhaps that would require less setting up and would be less likely to change.

The Socratic question, whilst perfectly valid, puts potential conflict in the way of the problem space. You can often make the person you put the question to feel that they are to blame or have made a stupid mistake. If the person is made to feel uncomfortable or in the wrong, then they are less likely to work with you or listen to your advice to resolve the problem.

Using the empathy statement, you have asked the same question, but have asked the person to go on a journey with you to understand concerns of the problem raised and evaluate whether a different approach has merit. The person is encouraged to feel part of the solution, rather than being the cause of the problem.

In writing this article I started to break the premise of the piece by using a title that was a Sochratic method style question: Empathy over Sochratic method?

Instead, I went for the title: Understanding can be difficult if there is confrontation!

I wrote this article after reading the preface of The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. The preface is describing the style of the book which is in the form of a story. The preface states that this has been an effective book style to get across the many issues coveres in an engaging way.

Thank you.

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