Resisting those Gotcha moments

August 22, 2007

Tammy Lenski has a great article about the Gotcha trap – you know that moment in a consultation process where someone moves in with a snappy statement and shouts “checkmate”…Tammy describes a zoning meeting about a cell tower to be located in her neighbourhood.

The attorney for the cell tower company, standing at the front of the room, interrupted one speaker. Do you have a cell phone? he asked the speaker, in a pretty unpleasant tone. Then he turned to the room of us, “Ok, show of hands,” he demanded. “How many of you own a cell phone?”
Gotcha, I thought, he’s pulling a Gotcha.

Oh this feels so familiar – short term triumph which results in long term resistance. I’ve seen this approach fail miserably on so many occasions, particularly in stakeholder consultation processes which are very often dissemination processes masquerading as consultation. When I am working with organisations about to embark on a consultation I ask them a very simple question at the outset – how willing are you to change your mind/hypothesis/position on the basis of what you hear throughout this process? It sounds simple but it isn’t…and if the organisation isn’t open to being surprised then the consultation won’t work and they are better off engaging a marketing expert to sell what they’ve already agreed on. The other side of the process is the willingness of the stakeholders to “reality check” their list of requirements of the consulting organisation. An open ended “what do you think we need to do?” consultation will result in a shopping list, raised expectation and yields disappointment. Reality testing that shopping list means asking the hard questions in the room – “if we need to do A with X amount of resources then help us think through how to prioritise what’s important?” That generally means a more mature discussion, less disappointment and a move out of the either/or position that generates those “gotcha” moments that Tammy describes.
If someone is pulling a Gotcha moment then the triumph will result in polarisation, monologue and resistance. If someone is willing to suspend their need for triumph, open themselves up to the possibility that they may be dealing with experts in their stakeholder group – that will yield a dialogue and reduce the possibility of entrenched resistance.

3 People reacted on this

  1. Annette, thanks for continuing the conversation here on your blog. I particularly love the question you ask at the start of a consultation, “How willing are you to change your mind/hypothesis/position on the basis of what you hear throughout this process?” It’s uncannily similar to the question I ask of organizations that invite me in to lead a strategic conversation or unravel a complex conflict. The answer’s usually pretty revealing, isn’t it?

  2. Hi Tammy – yes it is very revealing – but what’s even more revealing is the surprise some clients express at the question itself….And I don’t know about you, but I have turned down assignments on the basis of the answer.

  3. Very interesting article Annette. I do like that question – it’s very powerful. I’m thinking it would be worth asking myself this question often too!

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