Stuck in a Rut? Reframe the Question and get Back on Track

by Tara Rethore on September 13, 2011

CCZ road block
A battle is underway. The politicians are jockeying for position and an amorphous blob (AKA, “The Staff”) is creating options that will impact the daily lives of many. To be fair, they’ve got a difficult challenge that can no longer be ignored or delayed.

And like any true dilemma, there is no ideal solution; no matter what the choice, people will be unhappy and negatively impacted.

Sound familiar?

Business leaders regularly face difficult decisions, sometimes balancing bad versus worse, but often involving painful tradeoffs.

For example, our community – and that of the larger county in which we reside – faced an untenable situation; something had to give.

The questions were: which “something,” to what extent, and with what broader implications? Those are not unlike the questions business leaders regularly encounter.

Three actions to get back on track to meet your business objectives:

Get over it.

Our community’s initial reaction was simply to block the change. We were dragged into the challenge by circumstances beyond our control, so we’d “fight to the death” of the proposal. Yet, as we gathered more information from a variety of sources, we came to appreciate more fully the dilemma facing our county and community. So we got over it.

Focus on the end-game.   

Next, we got on with it. We zeroed in on what really mattered to us. Our needs differed; yet we found common ground. No doubt you’ve done that many times in business to resolve conflicts. You look for the best combination of choices to achieve the outcomes.  In negotiation, that’s called a BATNA – the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

Reframe the question.

We quickly realized we couldn’t remove roadblocks simply by focusing on the outcome. Time to stop beating our heads against the same proverbial wall and expecting different results.

Instead of asking: “How do we defeat that option?” we began thinking in terms of our shared end-game. We asked ourselves – and politicians and The Staff: “Specifically, what will it take to achieve our outcome?“

Reframing the question changed our mindset. We identified and implemented specific actions that systematically moved the conversation forward.

By no longer getting hung up on the proposal itself, we thought creatively and strategically about how to influence the county’s choices – and turn an untenable situation into something tenable. We succeeded.

These three steps can dramatically shift mindset and remove roadblocks in business too.

For example, confronted with a difficult but “mandatory” organizational change, one group stubbornly clung to its old ways in this Fortune 500 manufacturing firm. Repeatedly, its leaders created new roadblocks or spouted all the reasons why they could not change.

Finally, our team asked: “What would it take to make this work, to turn that ‘no’ into ‘yes’?” One by one, we were able to deal with the very real challenges – and fears – this group encountered as a result of the forced change.

Focusing on the outcomes and reframing the question transformed a resistant – and legitimately challenged – group into a powerful, compelling partner. Together, we created a solution that truly added value for their business.

When facing a dilemma – or getting stuck in a rut – reframe the question. That’s not simply about viewing the situation through a different lens, although that can also be helpful.

Rather, reframing the question allows you to focus once again on achieving an outcome and most importantly, redefining the path you take to get there.

Image: S L James via Flickr, Creative Commons

Tara Rethore is president, M Beacon Enterprises, and helps business leaders to do what they set out to do. She’s passionate about breaking down complex concepts into a few, critical themes that shift thinking and deliver results. Tara knows what it takes to succeed, to execute a strategy, and to transform vision into reality. Tara can also be found commenting on business strategy, execution, and results on Twitter.

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