Be comfortable in the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’

How many hours do you spend in internal meetings every week? How many times do you leave the room without achieving anything productive?

In my startup, I used to spend lots of times discussing problems. Usually the trigger was a complaint from clients, caused by some errors by IT or operations team, and those errors were caused by unclear instructions from sales or product team, so on and so forth.

Usually some certain people would start to be defensive, and others would try to mediate and make jokes to lighten the situation. In the end, people left the meeting room feeling better about themselves (“Yay, so the complaint was not entirely my fault!”), until a similar error happened again.

From my favourite professor, Prof. Cliff Bowman, I learned something new: “Team” is not good in senior level. Fear of hurting team harmony is not something a manager should have.
In every meeting, usually there are two zones: zone of comfortable debate and zone of uncomfortable debate.

ZOUD_diag.jpg

In the first zone, we are discussing light topics and fun options. “We know we are not gonna do this, but it’s fun to talk about.” It’s dangerous if your meeting is still in that zone. 
Instead, we have to learn to discuss in the zone of uncomfortable debate (ZOUD). How?
  • Dig the root cause of the problem (ask 7 why’s if necessary), then move on to solutions. Stop dangling on whose fault it was.
  • Stop being personal – this is not about you. We are all here because we care about the same company, and we share the same vision.
  • Critique the works or the actions, not the people.
And more importantly, leave the ZOUD before leaving the room. If you are not mature enough to do it, then maybe you are not supposed to be in that room in the first place.

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