When I Insist, You Resist. How Not To Create Engagement

On the one hand, the old line, ‘organizations are full of people anxious to be told what to do’ may still be true. Organizations are also full of people resenting hierarchy, or at least, wishing there was less of it, especially the hierarchy that generates politics.

I Insist_You resist
So, here’s how you’re going to do it…

The hierarchical types usually ask, ‘Why won’t they do what I tell them?’

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could issue clear goals and direction and that they could be well understood? Ideally we could then let people get on with things and be totally engaged in making it happen. But, life and the organization are not that simple.

We’re not talking about bringing social justice to organizations. Nor about the few folks do like being ordered around.Command, insist, resist

The one thing we can take for granted is that if we want to create engagement, this line matters:

When I Insist, You Resist.

While the thinking about applying the idea comes from the likes of Steve de Shazer’s therapy and coaching, it applies equally to management and leadership.

So, when we do know where the organization, or the team is headed it’s increasingly important to create employee engagement, transparency, etc. How do we avoid resistance?

Here’s some practical Solution Focused principles and practices to overcome your insistence and their resistance by getting people engaged from the start:

Slow the Pace 

– It’s counterintuitive, but this will always speed things up.

Develop a deeper understanding

– Help them understand the direction and thereby understand more yourself.

Avoid being the expert who knows exactly what needs to be done

– The people doing the work need to figure out for themselves how it will get done. Besides, collectively they may know more than you! Assume they are the experts – even though they may not know it.

Seek details

– Not just about the obstacles, but what’s already working. Then, how they see direction being implemented.

Find the compelling reasons for change

– Help them see for themselves why the change/direction is necessary, plus how they will get there.

Establish mutually agreed upon goals for change that will bring the project goals to life

– Besides the big picture, how they will get small implementation steps and momentum happening.

Go on. Give it a try!


How to bring transparency to, ‘That’s Not What We Wanted!’

We’ve all been there. You’ve worked hard to develop the presentation or proposal. During the meeting there’s shuffling of feet. Suddenly, a member of the team says, ‘This is interesting, but…’Presentation. Briefing. Alignment. Solution Focus

The presenter of the bad news has only mild awareness that likely this situation arose because they were, a) under skilled at briefing, and/or b) the project briefing and its context have changed.

In a world of increasing transparency, we still work with the fallacy that when the customer (your boss, a client, etc.) asks you (the manager, supplier, etc.) to address a goal or answer a problem, that your initial proposal will be the right solution.

Why does this happen? The art of giving good briefings is lost on some. Plus, change is constant. The time between a briefing and the presentation may only be a few days, but it’s subject to constant change. And, few projects involve only one stakeholder – just think of the changes going on around each stakeholder. All of this undermines what you were told in the briefing (vs. an information dump!).

Hence, when you present your ideas, there’s a good chance that what you show makes the key decision maker and/or some of the stakeholders fearful, i.e., that they will have to implement it, or that it will conflict with their own emergent strategies and tactics.

Using Solution Focus how do you, the presenter, a) respond, b) help the client (internal or external) to avoid this happening again?

1. How to respond to ‘That’s not what we wanted!’

Don’t fold. Their perceptions or the specs may have changed, but there’s still value in what you brought to the table. After all, they may have gotten some of the brief right! Rather than trying to justify the solution you brought, or worse becoming defensive (remember, it’s their problem!), try this approach:

a)     Ask them to clarify what they meant by, ‘not wanted.’ Sometimes people overreact when they see what they asked for. Just let them speak and don’t respond.

b)     Refresh them on the original briefing, but don’t open up a debate about it.

c)      Ask, ‘What parts of the proposal do work for you?’ relative to the briefing. If the answer is ‘nothing,’ try scaling 1-10 the various elements (1 is worst, 10 is ideal). The parts that get better numbers should be noted. Make sure you hear the different stakeholder perspectives – that will help them see what they have in common and their conflicting perspectives

d)      Ask, ‘Thinking of what’s not working, what would it look like if they were to get better?’ This will encourage them to clarify what they originally wanted and what’s changed.

2. How to help the customer avoid giving you a thin brief next time they request your thinking (and a lot of your time)

Take a leadership position and assume that it’s your job to help them give you a good briefing. Instead of an information session, make the briefing process an outcomes clarifying experience.

a)  During the briefing ask, ‘What’s working (relative to the project) that we don’t have to fix?’ And, ‘What’s the one barrier that we have to overcome?’

b) Make sure you get the perspectives of each the key stakeholders. For stakeholders not present at the briefing, ask the briefing person/team, ‘How would you see that working for your other stakeholders?’

c)  Ask, ‘Suppose we are successful in not only bringing you a good proposal, but implementing it so it’s a success – what would be different/better?’ Again, from each stakeholder perspective

d)  Ask, ‘Suppose during the proposal development period things changed, how would you see yourself handling that so that our proposal continued to align with your circumstances?’ And, ‘Suppose we check in with you to see what progress/change is happening how would you see that being useful to you?’

Why does this approach work? Because we take responsibility for helping people making a request are clear on not only what they are asking for, but also the outcomes that they seek. Hence, greater transparency.

The oldest line about the client/supplier is that they can never fully align. Use Solution Focus better questions to help your customer increase the likelihood of sustained alignment in an infinitely changing world.

More about better briefings and presentations in my book, ‘Monkey Free Meetings.’


To Tell, To Mentor, To Coach? That is the question!

‘Why is it that when I ask people to do something they don’t follow up?Team. To Tell, To Mentor, To Coach?

This came from an exasperated leader of a volunteer group. The organizational setting was more cross-collaboration than hierarchical, but actions that lead to outcomes were no less essential to the success of the group.

The leader and I talked about the issue of having to influence versus being direct and still have people take ownership and accountability – plus, allow for the varied skill level and motivation of the individuals.

I always try to get people to have a different outlook. When you do that, people take ownership of the information. They don’t ever have to reference me because I’d like to believe as an educator, I’m empowering them to have those thoughts themselves. Neil deGrasse Tyson

How do we lead by influencing when directing isn’t likely to work?

Ideally, we start off by having the discipline and time to practice approaches such as a clear, well articulated strategy (that’s designed to deal with constant change) and Jesse Lyn Stoner’s team charter.

going slow in the beginning can help you to go faster sooner faster in the right direction, with smarter decisions –Jesse Lyn Stone

In practicing Solution Focus in organizations, we help people find the solution that works for them. It’s a very successful approach to coaching. But, how do we help them when we need to give them instructions in an influential way, i.e., get them to buy into the direction they need to follow?

Organizations are full of people keen to be told what to do. How you tell them matters.–Unknown

Questions to ask that will help influence action:

Telling/directing by asking better questions that sell your idea

Here’s what I/we see is need to do to be successful with (project) and the desired outcomes. What do you see us needing to do? (Response: acknowledge their statement and, if necessary, reframe your briefing). Suppose we are successful in achieving the outcomes, how do you see that being useful to our team/group?

Mentoring to educate, influence and increase buy-in and motivation

I was once involved in a project where we (describe some of the approaches taken and advantages/ lessons learned). How do you see that description being useful to you in thinking about our project? Have you considered (possible actions, people to draw support from)? When you have experienced this sort of activity, what did you see yourself doing?

Coaching to help them sell themselves

Now that you have a clearer picture of the project needs and outcomes, plus how we might go about it, what might you see yourself doing? How would that be useful to others? How would you see yourself getting support from others? On a scale of 1-10 where are you on your understanding of this project and your role? Suppose that number went up, what would you have done to make it increase? Suppose you took personal ownership and accountability for the work, how would you see that being useful to you?

Would you need to use all of these questions to increase your leadership influence and help people perform well on their project?

Tell Mentor Coach

Maybe, but just asking the questions will help both you and the people doing the work.

There will be fewer surprises afterwards. And, you won’t need to resort to autocratic demands that may not be understood or accepted.



Use Transparency to Clarify Problems, Build Solutions

Much has been said about the chronic need for transparency in government, on Wall Street, etc. The advocates of transparency like WikiLeaks see themselves as champions of the truth.Transparency, problems, solution focus

Transparency is an essential component of making progress in society. Some would say that a few of the champions of transparency are a bit obsessive; they become so enmeshed in proving their point as a means to an end that the ‘end’ is no longer clear.

The problem with understanding something is that it gives you the illusion that you can fix it–Hart Blanton

Similarly, those who obfuscate to prevent transparency are sustaining their need to remain opaque solely in their self-interest.

How can we use transparency and make progress in organizations?

In Solution Focus, we aim at helping people get to the solutions they want by reframing their view of the problems they face. Most problems in organizations are a construct.

Construct: (noun) an idea or theory containing various conceptual elements, typically one considered to be subjective and not based on empirical evidence Oxford dictionary

When you are looking for the root cause of a problem by pressing for transparency you may never see the end of the analysis, and it often results in assessing blame.

A transparency problem ‘construct’ points at blame vs. solutions.

It defeats transparency. So, understand the problem, just don’t enter into it.

Instead, focus on transparency in order to clarify what needs to get better and build solutions.

A solution focus perspective on transparency:

The old transparency model Transparency that leads to solutions
– Dramatize the person’s problem for the sake of getting their attention (as well as the attention of others) – Ask the person what they are doing that works and what needs to get better
– Attack the opposition’s credibility in order to get them to change their mind – Ask the person what they are aiming for and how that will be useful to others
– Expose and force the person to admit they are wrong – Allow the person the space to admit they have learned from the situation

Will this change the opaque bankers or WikiLeaks people? No! But, it can help people in organizations make progress using transparency about the problem and the desired solution. 

How to get understanding if not agreement

Matt Ridley, the rational optimist, has a wish about, ‘economists versus ecologists and the limits to growth’:

‘If I could have one wish for the Earth’s environment, it would be to bring together the two tribes—to convene a grand powwow of ecologists and economists. I would pose them this simple question and not let them leave the room until they had answered it: How can innovation improve the environment?’ *

ecologists and economistsHow would we use Solution Focus to transform the debate at Matt’s powwow of ecologists and economists?

First of all, lets’ lower expectations and instead consider where we could achieve understanding if not agreement. After all, the powwow would be full of experts anxious to prove that their theory was correct or, at least, superior to the others.

Winners & LosersTo avoid a winners and losers debate Matt’s powwow of experts might apply this thinking:


4 new and better steps for getting expert agreement … and make progress on change.

Using a Solution Focus approach, the powwow participants might also:

Prior to the powwow, the experts might agree on desired outcomes for the event, i.e., imagine what success looks like

During the session, having actively listened to each other, take small steps forward

After the powwow, take what they have in common and publish it (vs. what they found wrong in each other’s ‘arguments’)

Why understanding if not agreement?

  • The issues are complex and the views are based on a multiplicity of expert analysis of the problems.
  • Letting go of long cherished ideas, albeit fear-based, is hard.
  • Reframing the ideas by asking better questions to open up listening and finding common ground helps make progress.

* Why most resources don’t run out – Matt RidleyMake progress visual copy



7 Steps to Build Your Personal Brand Story…Now!

If you don’t think you need to pay attention to building your personal brand, just Google your name several different ways. Chances are, you’ll be surprised by what you find. Maybe nothing.Writing Your Personal Brand Story

Whether you’re employed or an independent knowledge capital worker, you need to define your brand or the world will define it for you in ways that you may not like.

No, your Linkedin profile is not your personal brand – it’s just one expression of it.

For more reasons, read the Tim Morawetz blog 7 insights on building your personal brand.

How do we create the content for our brand story?

Perhaps you’d like to create your personal brand story using 7 Solution Focused better questions to help you develop it, and make it happen

1.     List all the things your clients, colleagues and bosses (your stakeholders) would say if they were touting your excellent qualities. Pretend you are a detective – go through the list you’ve made and imagine you are interrogating these folks for more details on each one of these items. Better still, interview several of them directly. Avoid modesty – you’re doing this to amplify what already works.

2.    Write a list of things that you’d like to be better called ‘scope for improvement.’ Now put it aside. Have you ever heard about a brand that told you about its shortcomings?

3.     Review the list of excellent qualities from #1. Imagine those who sung your praises are now telling you the essence of your good qualities. Remember the Economist Magazine’s editorial policy; condense and exaggerate! Go ahead, synthesize #1

4.     Now ask yourself about how #’s 1 & 3 are useful to your stakeholders (clients, bosses, colleagues) and answer, what value do others get from my work – my skills, behaviours and attitudes? How do I help them?  This becomes your elevator speech

5.     Answer the question, suppose a wizard was to wave her/his magic wand and I found myself doing #3 in the near future in ways that not only pleased others, but myself also – what else would I be doing? Describe a typical day in your better future.

6.     Take a glance at the ‘scope for improvement’ list. If it’s bugging you ask, suppose I get to that future (#5), and I look back. What will I have done differently in order to address that list?

7.     Continue looking back from the future (#5) to the present, ask yourself what were the 2-3 small steps I took in the first week of building my personal brand?

7 Better Questions to Build Your Personal Brand Story
7 Better Questions to Build Your Personal Brand Story

You now have

  • what you offer (# 1)
  • your positioning or elevator speech (#’s 3, 4)
  • your value to others (#4),
  • where you want to get to (#5)
  • what to stop worrying about (#’s 2, 6)
  • your first steps towards progress (#7)

Now you can reframe / revise your resume, biography, Linkedin profile, etc.

And get out there networking!



Fetishists and Solution Focus

Fetishists, according to one dictionary definition, ‘pay excessive attention or attachment to something’.


Recently, psychiatrist Ben Furman questioned if we fans of Solution Focus might have become a bit like the overzealous evangelist. Good question!


To be provocative, are some Solution Focus fans fetishists? If we espouse a core competence, (I’ve been practicing the SF approach for almost 18 years and SF Brief Therapy has been around for 30+ years), it should be questioned regularly in order to keep it relevant and not become expert driven.

So, I pulled out the list of contents in my book, Fry the Monkeys, and asked ‘who is Solution Focus about?’ Is it me, the expert, or the client as the expert? I’ll let you consider for yourself if this is a fetishist’s approach, or an approach that works entirely for the client and therefore avoids dogma, etc.

The Fry Monkeys book agenda: ‘Recipes for the “Solution Focus” Organization – the ingredients you’ll need’

  • Who’s in charge of the thinking?
  • It’s about their resources for their change
  • Every case is different
  • Every solution is unique
  • They are the experts, not you
  • It’s about making progress, not a revolution
  • The skeleton keys
  • What’s a better question?
  • What to expect when you ask a question
  • Solution Focus language for setting a team up to succeed
  • Showing them you are listening instead of thinking of answers to their issues
  • Finding the resources already in place
  • The future perfect / the miracle question
  • Yes, but is the difference sustainable?
  • Affirming and acknowledging
  • The WOW! factor
  • Lots of revelation through clarification
  • Helping them figure out where they are through scaling
  • Clarifying, affirming, and moving forward with scaling
  • There’s no such thing as a bad question
  • Take them seriously, not literally
  • Phrases and words to stop using
  • Slowing things down to speed things up
  • Change as little as possible
  • Learn a new language
  • Gently clench your teeth and listen
  • Helping them decide
  • When we work harder than the team
  • Yes, they do want your advice
  • The more I insist, the more you resist
  • When the team can’t stop complaining
  • When you, never mind they, are stuck
  • Tell, mentor, coach
  • When to go out on a limb
  • A beginning, a middle, and an end
  • Situations where you might apply the Solution Focus tools and recipes

Yes, the client is the expert!

Ben Furman does assert that we have to sell Solution Focus. I agree. This forces us to work on what the client wants, not our own goals as experts in Solution Focus.


Just in case you don’t have a copy my book ‘Fry the Monkeys, Create a Solution’ you can sample a free download of the first chapter.

The Silo is Dead. Long Live the Silo!


First: organizational silos are not a bad thing.

They are created by pools of expertise, required in matrix organizations and in compliance-driven businesses.

Second: silos are bad – very bad – for the customer when the silos hide behind their expertise, hoard power and lack expertise in collaboration.

They also encourage passivity among those silos that perceive they lack power or influence.

Silo management, solution focus, employee engagement

Some organizations are very good at avoiding silo issues – my favorite example is Zappos (no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy!) – but it will be a while before that approach takes root.

Silos struggle for power and/or act aimlessly when the leader and executive team are not aligned around vision/mission, values and, in particular, the customer strategy (never mind the operational and organizational strategy). Bottom line, silos reduce collective impact.

1. The hidden cost is lost productivity and ineffective alignment with the customer.

2. A visible cost is the inability to deal effectively with change or competitive threat.

3. Lack of alignment also prevents the utilization of people and financial resources to become even more effective for the customer, e.g., your CRM system needs upgrading, but internal conflict constrains both thinking about the strategy for the system and the allocation of funds.

4. The people making progress on strategy and focusing on the customer are constrained in their customer engagement by the people working with a silo mindset.

But, this is not news. Having clarified the issue how do we use some Solution Focus tools to turn it into an opportunity?

Or, while we await executive alignment, what can we do to help the teams begin to collaborate? How can Solution Focus make a contribution?

Click to download
Click to download

Here’s an example from a recent meeting where several groups had been finding it difficult to align around a customer experience project. Note how the language of the agenda is both solutions and outcome focused.

How do we know this works?

As one manager said after several customer co-creation kitchen tables, ‘We now never start a meeting, especially with cross-functional teams, without asking, ‘How will this discussion be useful to the customer?’   


Ten Views on Leadership. What’s Your’s?

My colleague, Mark McKergow (and his colleague, Helen Bailey) will be publishing a book on Host Leadership* which got me thinking about the vast number of views on leadership.

Which leadership model / appraoch?
Which leadership model / appraoch?

Here’s just ten of them (stated under the banner of leadership), followed by a few questions:

The host – dancing between hero and servant: A host is someone who entertains guests – friends, enemies or strangers. Traditions of hospitality have been a key part of all cultures worldwide. The metaphor of the leader as host builds on the idea of leader as servant, and offers a new, rooted yet innovative framework. Mark McKergow

Leadership is not a position, it is an activity. Daniel Newman, The Millennial CEO

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. Nelson Mandella

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. Peter Drucker

Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Henry Ford

 Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. Steve Jobs

Before I went to jail, I was active in politics as a member of South Africa’s leading organization – and I was generally busy from 7 A.M. until midnight. I never had time to sit and think. Nelson Mandela

I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading. Amy Poehler

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In our experience, however, only about 15 percent of the companies that voice a need for change are truly in crisis. A far more common situation – involving as many as 60 percent of those companies – is a state of inconsistency. Booze & Co, Strategy+Business

And so on…

What’s your favorite leadership quote or perspective?

Or, conversely is there one that you can’t stand?

So much for the guys! What about quotes from the many women leaders?

Do you have a Solution Focus quote about leadership?

*Host Leadership

How to get a notoriously siloed industry to speak bluntly

It takes a lot of trust to have an open dialogue among fiercely competitive leaders. Here’s how: York University, Toronto - ON, Canada

Interview with Jim Danahy: Application of Solution Focus in a Kitchen Table Roundtable

Jim, you recently organized a roundtable for the RAC as part of your Centre for Retail Leadership (CRL) featuring three senior marketing leaders from large retailers like Home Depot, Loblaws and Canadian Tire. Can we have your views on the session facilitation using a Solution Focused version of Rick Wolfe’s Kitchen Table model.

Thinking of the dynamic dialogue (among a great panel including yourself) that took place at the table, what pleased you most about the conversation?

Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

In a notoriously siloed, secretive and competitive industry, three of its most influential leaders avoided the temptation to spew platitudes and chose instead to speak bluntly on some very thorny industry topics and identify a few specific ways they can elevate their profession together. It was the real deal.

Can you point to one or two aspects of the Solution Focus facilitation approach that added value to what the audience experienced?

They spoke about current relevant issues and gave examples of ways each will immediately make things better both within their organizations and in better future industry collaborations.

At the Kitchen Table we come to share news, ideas, have a laugh and to disagree. We want the panel to engage in rambunctious interaction with each other. How does that set it apart from the traditional panel moderation approach?

It prevents scripted messages and brings out candour.

If I were a prospective participant at the Centre for Retail Leadership, what would I have enjoyed most when the main themes of the panel were offered to the audience for discussion?

No one was stuck ‘on message.’ You heard uncommonly candid opinions from senior executives. You should take comfort that the people ‘on the bridge of the ship of retail’ appreciate their own leadership responsibilities, and that recruiting, training and rewards systems must change dramatically to get retail results – starting today.

If I were a panel member how would I have benefitted from the dialogue?

We’re not alone and there is much we can do, and have committed to do, as an industry to advance our profession. Some panelists made specific new plans for staff interactions later the same day. Not bad for 90 minutes over eggs and coffee.

What three things please you most about your work in making the Centre for Retail Leadership happen?

All three things revolve around a real hunger to build professionalism in our industry. 1) As a 3rd generation member of “the accidental profession,” I was especially encouraged to see some of the country’s biggest retailers were first to bring their senior and high potential executives in to the Centre for Retail Leadership to help them tackle specific objectives 2) Mid-sized retailers and major consumer products vendors are now reaching out to us to help them build retail best practices 3) Individual retail professionals have begun to ask for open enrolment programs to build their careers with retail-specific skills and leadership courses.

the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

About Jim: A third generation retailer, Jim Danahy is director of the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He is also CEO of CustomerLAB, a retail productivity firm serving retailers across North America since 1994.