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Are you looking for Something Right, or are you looking for Something Wrong?

I am a natural problem solver, I want everything to be a problem because then we can solve it! Aside from not being very endearing, this also shuts down possibilities to make things great. When I started to look for something to be right, instead of looking for something wrong, amazing things started happening.

Look for something to love.

I used to think that if I could identify what was wrong with something, I could then collaborate to make it not wrong and people would be energized and then it would be awesome! Sadly, this is not how it works. Let’s take a simple example of a document. You ask me to review your document and I tell you all the things that are wrong with it. How does that feel? Pretty crappy huh? What if I start by finding all the great things in your document?

I know you’re thinking, “yes, of course, this is what management gurus have been telling us for years, ‘say something nice first’, they call it the ‘sandwich technique’”. What I’m talking about here takes it a step further. I’m not only saying that you tell them something good first, I’m suggesting that you actually look for good things first, even when you are sitting alone at your desk reading the document.

I used to read a document or review a presentation looking for something to be wrong! Then even if I started with something nice, it lacked authenticity because my primary focus was the improvements. You can’t fake this stuff! Then when you talk to the person, you will naturally want to start with “what I love about this is…..” and “I’d love to hear more about this idea here…”

Your fingerprints are on it.

I guess I thought that helping with their success meant I could tell them what was wrong. In the document example, this limits our interaction to the document, it’s an editing transaction, “here’s what you should change.” If I simply tell them what’s wrong, they can take it or leave it, I don’t have a stake in it. If they don’t take my feedback, that’s their problem.

I started to flip it around and view it as “I am now part of this co-creation, now that I’m touching it, it has my fingerprints on it”, that changed my approach significantly. If I co-create with them, I might leave it better than I found it. That has led me to want to build on what’s already great.

What about the actual things that were wrong?

By the time you’ve built on the good work that was done, and explored limitless possibilities together, the stuff that was wrong is an afterthought and they are appreciative that you caught it. “Oh, by the way, there’s a typo on page 2 and some discontinuity on page 4.” It’s so minor at that point, no one is offended.

What’s your internal dialogue as you listen to other people’s ideas or review other people’s work? Let us know!

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