Don’t get mired.

I’m watching this. I’m sitting with my partner, we’re having a somewhat heated…well, okay, it’s a heated discussion, it’s been a long weekend, we’ve played hard, we’re both tired and maybe ready for a return to the predictability of the work week.

And I’m watching this thing happen. Where I listen and try to understand or more often, try to defend against something I perceive as an attack or a low level threat and before I know it, I’m following that thread, I’m diving down that rat hole, I’m about to get lost on someone else’s path.

rat hole

I’m not saying she doesn’t have very valid points. That’s not where I’m going, that’s not the problem. Where I’m going is this: it’s just so easy to get mired in someone else’s stuff. And if you think it’s easy in a relationship where you get the chance to practice NOT getting mired on a daily basis, if you think that’s easy, well just think about work. Think about entire organizations and how quickly you can get mired in some wacky thing or other simply because someone has data to bolster their argument for this or that and before you know it, you’re on someone else’s path heading in a direction you never even gave much thought to. (I’m not even going to touch on the fact that some highly placed individuals in every company are highly paid precisely because they are able to divert attention at just the right time 😉
It’s easy to get mired. And the more open your mind, the easier it is.

Is this a bad thing? Actually, it’s not necessarily bad. Often it is bad but not necessarily. I hold that if you recognize that change requires time and patience and building a foundation of trust which is based on person A having confidence that person B is listening to them, you may have to get a little mired now and then. You never know, there might be something fabulous in there.

But part of your brain should always be engaged, watching, appraising and making sure you’ve left enough bread crumbs behind to find your way back.

Large companies have a million zillion rat holes. They have entire teams churning out rat holes by the dozen and better software all the time to help them slice and dice ever more finely. And sometimes it seems their entire raison d’etre is to create a complex loop-de-loop where a straight line would suffice.

If my stated goal is to discover the root problem in a company’s failed online support options, for example, there will be a few obvious and easy issues. But they’re obvious and easy–the company in question has likely already thought of them and rejected them or let them die in the “editing table,” the team room (A good discussion of failed attempts to change in corporate settings here).

And that’s where it gets dicey: your job is really to find out the unspoken, unconscious idea they all share about online support. “our customers won’t use it,” “they’re not smart enough to use it,” “we can’t get support for any changes,” and blah blah blah. And before you know what hit you, the metrics and data have your head spinning and you can’t even remember why you brought in.

That’s mired.

Step away from the table. Clear your head. Listen. Not to what they’re “saying,” but to what they’re not saying, or what they’re saying in a million different ways because you know, you know! they’re measuring what they want to prove, not what should happen, not anything at all about where they should go from here.

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