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Undefended Problem Solving



The CEO of a large, successful company confided to me recently that one of his greatest frustrations is when a member of his team gets carried away defending their own position. To the point that the person sulks or doesn't participate productively in problem solving or innovation. His interpretation is that the person is having an emotional attachment to a business decision.

Have you ever found yourself defending your position beyond what in hindsight was reasonable? Getting emotional. Withholding your participation. Maybe pouting? Knowing that your stance could damage your working relationship but you just could not let go? Have you ever caught yourself shaking your head and wondering what happened? Feeling a little shame as you wondered why you fought so hard for your idea. Why you couldn't be flexible.

It used to happen to me. A lot. I was hooked into being right. Why? Because deep inside I judged myself and felt not smart enough, quick enough, whatever enough. And if I could prove I knew the answer (solution, best way to do something, etc.), I could put to rest the part of me deep inside (the 7 year old) that was profoundly afraid I wasn't enough. I assumed that if others had a different opinion or questioned mine, they too felt I wasn't enough. I wanted to prove that others, not I, were wrong. My behavior was ruled by my own core triggers that really had nothing to do with what was happening right now.

In leadership, followership and relationships, the win is in connection and collaboration. A friend says to me all the time, "The highest thought wins." I think she is saying that the magic of creating something that is bigger and more important than us, lives in openness and undefended problem solving. This is the place where innovation, solutions and ideas can grow.

Many leaders I work with talk about feeling isolated. I suspect that this comes from feeling like they need to know all the answers. When we explore this deeper, they uncover the fear they will be exposed as not being enough (capable enough, smart enough, quick enough, right enough, bold enough, etc.) for the job.

When we hold onto being right, we keep ourselves small and isolated. The next time you begin to box yourself into a corner, isolating from others and essentially shutting down, consider if it is because you are reacting to a deep fear of being seen as not enough. Take a moment and center your breathing. Listen for the beating of you heart. Reestablish your connection to others by acknowledging your humanity and vulnerability. Try saying something like, "Wow. That is fascinating. I was feeling a really deep pull to be right about this. Is it okay if we start over?" Truly and authentically let go of the need to be right.

We all have this tendency. It happens in our personal life and in our work life. It is called being human. It is nothing to fear. By stepping into it and acknowledging it, you will be more, not less connected to others. You will dissipate the feelings of isolation and fear. You'll feel lighter and less burdened. You will open up creativity and innovation in yourself and in others. The collaborative solution is always better than the singular solution because the combined energy creates the higher thought. And the highest thought always wins!

P.S. Do you want to explore this topic? Beth Wonson Consulting provides professional development, executive coaching and personal growth coaching. Email to set up a time to explore how you can increase connection and hold space for the highest thought!