Help Me Understand?

One of the key devices I use as a consultant is something I call the “Help me understand” question. I use this when there is an apparent contradiction between two statements or behaviors of a person.

The structure is this: Help me understand how A (one behavior or statement) is in alignment with B (the other behavior or statement)?

For example: Help me understand how letting one of your best people get away from your organization is in alignment with your company’s stated goal of attracting and retaining great people?

Sometimes this leads me to some very good insight and a much deeper understanding of the issues. Very often, I am convinced that A and B are, in fact, in alignment and that what was lacking was my deeper understanding.

Other times however, the person I am working with is unable to reconcile the dissonance and adjusts their behavior or statement accordingly.

Still other times I receive no feedback from the question, especially if I pose it in email. I can only assume that they make no adjustment and go on living a contradiction.

3 thoughts on “Help Me Understand?

  1. Ed, Just my 2 cents here.

    The danger with that question is you put the other party back on their heels. Using that question to get them to see the contradictions in words and deed can either lead to a great conversation or a fight!

    As a long-time observer of human nature (42 years worth), I would guess the latter would be more predominant. No one likes to be made aware that they are inconsistent.

    Of course, your suggested approach is much better than coming right out and saying “You’re doing it wrong!”. I’ll try it out next time I see such a situation and will report back to you.

  2. Peter, yes I agree, but I want the conflict. Conflict in consulting situations IS the agent of change.

    Now, part of it is how you say it. If said sarcastically, it would be worse than just saying, “You are doing it wrong.”

    When I use this tool, I get myself in a frame of mind where I am truly open to a possible reconciliation of the ideas. It really could be (it often has been) that I really do not understand one of the two things.

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