“People only see what they are prepared to see.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today, one of the most valuable talents is the ability to grasp fluid circumstances and gain agreement for a change initiative. While there is an imperative to change, change creates stress, defensiveness, and resistance. It is rarely greeted with unabashed enthusiasm (unless it is a pay increase). So there is a temptation to demand that everyone gets on board but this provides short-term acquiescence, not active support.
Instead of pushing change by fiat, we can take another approach and commit to expanding our perceptions and situational understanding. It means accepting that we operate from a limited perception. For example, what we see as an uncompromising opportunity can also be seen by others as an ominous threat. To reach consensus we must expand our perceptions by asking questions and listening without judgment. We must be willing to see what others see.
For example, when you look at the following illustration, how many squares do you see?
The common answer is 16 or 17. And they are correct since it is clear that every single box and the whole illustration are squares. Yet, if we change our perception, it becomes apparent that groupings of four single squares also form a square. We just did not see all 30 squares with our first look. And if we did follow this typical pattern, we fall into the over 90% of the responders that answer 16 or 17. (See PUZZLERSWORLD). This exercise points to the reality that when we find an answer we stop searching. Now, this exercise was simple so it is easy to jump to a conclusion. However, when we try to gain agreement, we need to expand our willingness to investigate and understand the issue from all perspectives. We must agree that instead of thinking we know everything, we accept the need to learn more. A comprehensive exploration leads to the new insights, solutions and aha moments.
Searching beyond initial reactions, considering other interpretations, understanding constraints and factoring in trends reveal perspectives. These insights highlight ways to build a consensus. In my experience, sticking points and loggerheads usually focus on different aspects. What is essential to one is not critical to another. Probing reveals new insight and it paves the way for win-win resolutions. Open-ended questions reveal perspectives that can be discussed, modified or sequenced into a plan that gains active support. Consensus takes time and effort but it is delivering results.
Are you willing to look beyond your initial conclusions? If so, you must ask questions covering every facet. Not only will this build rapport, it will surface new facts that can form the foundation for true consensus.