Have you ever introduced a new idea and gotten the backlash comment “why didn’t I know about this?” Or been in a meeting where ideas are being tossed around, and someone gets angry because they feel decisions were made without their input? I’ve seen this phenomenon play out many times, and it stems from what I’m calling “Fear of Being Left Out” or FEBLO.
Some people view an assertion as a final word, and other people view it as a volley, containing information for the return volley. How can we know the difference?
Let’s look at a simple, non-work example. A co-worker comes by and says “Hey we’re thinking of getting pizza for lunch. You in?” You’ve been watching your weight so pizza is not a great option for you. If you take their statement your coworker made as final, you might say “Was anyone going to ask what I wanted before you all decided to get pizza?” Or you might just shut down and say “No thanks.” Someone else might instead volley back “Hey ya know, I’m not eating pizza right now, how about we go out for salads?” Do you see how the first person assumed the decision was made, and the second person assumed it was flexible?
The problem with FEBLO is that once the accusations start, they shut down generative discussion. The whole discussion becomes a cross-examination about “when exactly..” and “why wasn’t I…” instead of “what can we create from here.”
Why do people assume assertions are final? Gender plays a role in our view of assertions. According to Barbara Annis, author of Gender Intelligence, when someone shuts down an idea, women tend to take it as final. Men tend to see this as part of the process, banter, a volley to return. When someone assumes a decision is final, they are more likely to respond with anger. When you see it as malleable, you’ll work to shape it into something you agree with.
What to do when you feel like a decision is final. Whether your idea is shut down, or decisions are made without you, you might face a time when someone makes an assertion. As yourself what assumptions you are making about this person’s assertion. Test your assumption. Is this person the final say? Have they considered all the possibilities and settled on this one?
And remember, just because they say is loud and forcefully, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for discussion.
What do you do when someone feels left out of the decision? Open it up. Get curious. “What are your concerns?” “What factors are we missing?” It’s important to note that their objections might be a cover for a deeper fear. For example, if someone continues to object purely on the grounds that they weren’t consulted earlier, there’s probably a fear at play. Connect and have an honest conversation about what they are afraid of. It could be that they are afraid they are going to get cut out of the loop or not get credit for their contribution. Or that the idea will cause more work for their team. These are real issues that you want to bring to light and address.
How do you view assertions in your organization? Let us know!