Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 18, Issue 47;   November 21, 2018:

Make Suggestions Privately

by

Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk.
An informal meeting geometry

An informal meeting geometry. In many meetings today, some participants are attending virtually.

As is well known, unsolicited advice is rarely heeded. Receivers of unsolicited advice often experience the advice as criticism, rejection, or attacks. If their reactions are severe enough, the receivers might counterattack, even if their givers intended only to help. But the situation is actually worse than that. Depending on how the givers deliver comments of any kind — even comments that aren't advice — receivers sometimes experience those comments, including questions, suggestions, and requests, as unsolicited advice. Some receivers then react as if they were criticized, rejected, or attacked.

So in response to questions, suggestions, or requests, receivers sometimes attack, which must seem truly odd to the person asking the question or making the suggestion or request: "Wow, he must be in a really bad mood." Or, "What did I do to set her off like that?" Or, "My idea is obviously a good one — he must be dumber than a bag of hair."

Moods and intelligence might have nothing (or very little) to do with it. Sometimes the real reason why receivers reject or attack their givers is the setting in which the giver delivers the question, suggestion, or request.

Here's an example. Geoff is responsible for coordinating a group of representatives of different departments as they gather census data about equipment that all departments are updating. In the course of this work, each department must gather data on the equipment it owns. They're all probing enterprise databases and scanning equipment tags and RFIDs as necessary. Naturally, when the scanned data and the databases don't agree, somebody has to do some research to resolve the discrepancy.

Each department Some people have no difficulty
adopting suggestions from
others, however they arrive.
Some just can't.
has invented its own process for doing essentially the same thing. It's wasteful compared to an alternative that would involve a single scan of all relevant equipment tags, and comparison of that result with the enterprise databases. So at a weekly meeting about six weeks ago, Geoff suggested to Ellis, the program manager, that IT could scan all the equipment tags and RFIDs, and gather all the data for distribution to the departments, who would then work on resolving the discrepancies, if any.

Ellis listened to Geoff's suggestion and said, "Hmm, I'll look into it." Nobody has heard anything about it from Ellis since then. And they won't, unless they ask. If they do ask, Ellis will find a way to put them off.

The problem is that Geoff's idea is a good one, and in retrospect, it's also obvious. When Geoff suggested it, Ellis realized that Geoff was right — the process they were using, which Ellis had devised, was, well, idiotic. But Ellis could find no way to announce a change without feeling foolish.

Some people have no difficulty adopting suggestions from others, however they arrive. Ellis isn't one of these people. Things might have gone very differently if Geoff had suggested his idea to Ellis in a one-on-one meeting, or even by telephone. Then Ellis could have announced a change, possibly crediting Geoff. Or Ellis might even have taken credit for the idea himself. Geoff wouldn't have liked that very much, but he liked the chaos of the current process even less.

The risk of credit thievery is the obvious downside of making suggestions privately. Because no witness can confirm that the receiver got the idea first from the giver, the receiver might steal all or some of the credit. Or not. But if the giver benefits significantly from the receiver adopting the suggestion, the risk of thievery can be worthwhile. If you adopt this suggestion, it's OK with me if you take credit for it. Go to top Top  Next issue: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI  Next Issue

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