Leadership 101

simple insights for those in leadership

Tuesday Thots :: 04.20.10

People Hate It When You Mess With Their “Buts”

Let’s face it – very few people like change.  I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “No one likes change except for a wet baby.”  As a father of two, I know that even wet babies would sometimes prefer to stay in that wet diaper than to be changed.

Last week I sat in a leadership meeting here at our church as we discussed some issues that need to be addressed.  The problem – there are no easy and simple solutions.  If we leave the situation alone, we may not feel any immediate pain, but in the long run it will likely severely cripple if not kill us.  But to make a change, regardless of which of the several options we choose to go with, means some people will get angry (we might even lose some), we will all have to make sacrifices, and, we may have to kill some sacred cows.

As the discussion progressed, I observed one of us getting very uncomfortable.  It was easily observable in his body language.  There were no personal attacks being made.  None.  Not of any kind.  Just a open discussion amongst us of the options that exist as we see them right now.  Just laying everything out on the table before another meeting next week to begin discussing what we’re actually going to do.

That’s when I came to the realization that no one likes it when you mess with their “buts.”  You know – you have them too.  “I don’t mind if we talk about anything but….”  “We can change anything but….”  The “buts” are our sacred cows.  They’re the things that we are passionate about, that we’ve always believed deeply, that we’ve always done, that are a part of our fabric, practice, philosophy.  And sometimes no one else even knows what they are until someone accidentally (or deliberately) begins messing with them.  Then you can see the change in posture, facial expressions, and overall tension surrounding that person.

Its easy to say that the best solution is that we all avoid having those sacred cows.  Its easy to say that we should always enter discussions without holding any idea or practice personally – that we should hold onto every idea or practice loosely.  And maybe that is the ideal, what each of us as leaders should strive towards.  But, its not reality for many of us.

In light of the ideal – that leaders learn to enter into discussions holding ideas and practices loosely, allow me to offer a few suggestions on how to get through meetings without feeling the tension of having messed with someone’s “but.”

  1. Make sure everyone knows that everything and anything related to the issue is up for discussion and that we all need to hold our ideas and practices loosely.  This at least states it up front and helps everyone understand that no one is being attacked.  The expectation is set.
  2. Make sure everyone knows that no one is allowed to attack another person or even attack the idea or practice.  Ideas and practices can be discussed, but attacks are off limits.  Just keep in mind that every idea and every practice, at one time or another, came from an individual or a group of individuals, and so there is likely to still be some attachment there.
  3. Learn how to communicate and encourage each other.  There is a world of separation between, “That is the stupidest, most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard,” and “I think I understand where you’re coming from, but have we considered…?  If I’m understanding you wrong, please help me understand you better.

How about you?  How do you react when someone messes with your “but?”  What do you do to take the sting out of messing with people’s “buts” when change is being discussed?

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment