Categories
Coaching Leadership

The Reframer

It’s time to make a decision. The meeting is scheduled, the agenda and pre-reading sent out well ahead of time. You sit down, do some introductions and dive in. You outline the problem, highlight the known constraints and list the options that are available to decide between.

Before you get any further, you are hit by the Reframer, a particularly specific weaponiser of the “What’s the problem?” question.

They challenge the framing of the problem, with the goal of either claiming it’s not something worth solving, or inserting their own favoured option into the pile to consider. It’s usually not a data-driven interjection, instead they “don’t believe” something, or don’t recognise it as something they’ve experienced.

You’ve got to stop the Reframer as swiftly as possible. Otherwise they’ll derail this meeting, drag you back to an earlier time and prevent any progress from being made.

To keep moving forwards, apply the following approach:

  1. Thank them for the contribution
  2. Note that the concern has been covered in pre-reading or is out of scope of the current conversation
  3. Offer to return to the issue later if it’s not settled in the ongoing conversation
  4. Move on to your next planned step

Depending on the exact attempt at reframing, you might need to go heavier at one point or another to be able to move on. If the concern is covered in previously provided data, then highlight that. If it’s totally separated from the decision to be made, then make the offer to return very light.

If the Reframer won’t let it go, then put it in the Parking Lot. Write down whatever they raised, put it somewhere visible and record it in meeting notes. If all they want is to be heard, then doing this will help keep you moving.

Don’t let Reframers drag you back, but keep on track and get to the decision you need to make.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

What’s the Problem?

There are a wide ranging set of power-move questions that can be asked during a meeting. “What’s the Problem?” is a classic example of the type.

As with all powerful things, it can be used for good, or for ill. If you bring it into play, then try to always be the first and be prepared to defend against the second.

When you use it for good, then you reset a conversation that has dived into detail or solution mode too quickly. It’s really powerful when people are pitching a particular feature or asking for something specific, but they haven’t shown why doing it that way is important.

So you can pull back, understand the problem and confirm if the proposed action is really the best solution to the question on the table. It lets you check the foundations of the argument are sound, and that the work done to get to the solution is solid. If it’s not a sound request, then you are able to a put a pause in place to get to the right final outcome.

The flip side is when someone tries to use this move to derail a fruitful conversation. Maybe they feel like their voice hasn’t been heard and they don’t like the direction that’s been agreed on. Possibly they are only just now paying attention and have missed the discussion up to this point. Sometimes, they just want to feel clever at having made a serious sounding contribution.

To reduce the incidence of the question, lay the groundwork ahead of time. Give out pre-reading as part of the agenda that sets the scene and discusses the problem space. Cover what’s been tried, what’s discarded and what’s on the table now. Next, prep the 90 second summary for the start of the meeting. Outline the problem, share the constraints and set the scene, “This is a meeting to solve this problem”.

Now anyone asking what the problem is can be pointed back to the opening statements, keeping the meeting focused on the solution.

If they disagree it’s the problem to be solved, that’s a different conversation to have. This might be raised early in the session, or they might wait to ask “What’s the real problem here?”. In either case, you can pause quickly and ask what they meant by the question. At attempt to obstruct or bring a new agenda is likely at this point, so ask if there’s any fresh information to consider, and if not, you can thank them for their question, point back to the opening statements and then move on.

If there is fresh information, then it might be an ambush. Something critical to the decision making has been left off the table until the last minute. This is a difficult area to navigate, as whilst the person bringing the info may not be acting collaboratively, the information itself might still be vital.

You’ll need to think carefully about how to handle the conversation, but don’t lose your cool. Thank the person for their contribution, then consider if it’s significant enough to change the parameters of the meeting. If it is, then it’s better to postpone the decision until we’ve included the new info into our parameters. If this happens once it’s something you can handle with private feedback. If it’s a pattern of behaviour, then that’s a time you need to share the impact with the person’s manager, to bring them back to collaborative decision making and proactive information sharing.

Asking “What’s the problem?” can defend you against moving to solutions too quickly, meaning you get to a better final outcome. Use it with care, and understand how to protect yourself from those that ask it with bad intent.