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Expect the unexpected

Once we have really listened to others, we can do one of two things: 1. Keep on thinking about it or 2. Do something with it.  If we decide to do something with it, we may end up learning much more than we expected – or wanted – to learn. 

In my post Can I hear you now?, I talked about working with a partnership that was struggling. While listening was important, in order for us to move forward in a productive way, we needed to learn from what we were hearing.  As I discussed in that post, after meeting with key partners and asking three simple questions we found out that they all recommended very similar things.

We thought this made our job pretty easy – at least initially.  We organized their recommendations into themes, discussed them in our next leadership meeting and quickly took action to address 2-3 key areas of concern.   

This resulted in two key lesson learned.  

  1. It generated trust and engagement in the partnership among people who were considering leaving and
  2. It created conflict with a few people who were previously in leadership roles who took the changes very personally.  

The first lesson was expected.  This was exactly what I hoped would happen.  As a result of listening, learning, and applying what we learned, we were able to help strengthen our partnership and re-engage those who had almost given up on working together.  It was exciting and energizing!  

At the same time, I must admit that I was naively surprised by the second outcome.  We knew that we needed to follow Andy Stanley’s principle to “Always sacrifice the one for the many, never the many for the one,” but it was incredibly difficult to face those who were opposing us – even though there were just a few.  However, this lesson was probably more important than the first, even though it was quite difficult.  Here is what I learned:

  • Doing the “right thing” for the overall partnership doesn’t necessarily result in it being perceived as the “right thing” by every member of the partnership.
  • Learning from those who oppose you may be just as important – if not more important – than those who agree with you.  It doesn’t mean that you necessarily change what you are doing, but it can definitely impact how you are doing it.
  • Listening, learning and doing something with what you’ve learned are keys to restoring relationships that have been damaged in your partnership.  It is possible – though it may take years – to restore relationships.  

So, the next time you ask really good questions, listen closely to the answers and learn from what you hear, be sure that you are prepared for expected and unexpected results.  Don’t be discouraged when it’s difficult because it might just make you and your partnership or team stronger than ever!

When have you learned something unexpected in working with a partnership or team?

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