How do deal with team members and peers who say they want to grow but don’t want to listen to you?

Now and then, I strike up an interesting conversation with one of my team members or peers outside work, where I discuss some of the challenges they’re facing at the workplace. While most people are just okay with whatever is going on, some don’t want to commit to a solution.

Often, I have a conversation that starts as constructive but then takes a sudden turn where it’s clear the other person doesn’t want to change the status quo or questions the value add in the suggestion I shared instead of the problem at hand. To them, I often respond, “fine, I hear you… what else might work in this situation.” 

And they go, “hmm, I don’t know… why don’t you tell me.” 

“Well, think.” 

“No, I don’t know. That’s why we’re having this conversation.”

“Assume that you do know what to do; what would you do?” 

And voila, magically, they come up with a potential solution that they feel is obvious but are convinced won’t work. Essentially, they have two keys — theirs, which won’t work and yours, which won’t work either. But they want to grow and genuinely want to know what you have to say about their situation. 

If you’ve ever experienced this, you know the meeting ends in an awkward situation — they’re not convinced or satisfied with what you had to offer. You’re cursing yourself for wasting a precious 30 minutes (or up to two hours! Please don’t ask me who would spend two hours with such a person) of your life!

Honestly, it’s okay to feel that way, but as a leader, you should know that you’re not in the business of convincing anyone and everyone to your way of thinking. Your responsibility is to enable them to think for themselves while trying your best not to share any solution at all. How’s that helpful? Here’s how:

  1. People are rarely convinced with a solution handed over to them by others. Shoving a fool-proof solution is a sure-shot way of wasting it with someone who doesn’t want to listen. 
  2. Most people are hesitant to do something beyond themselves for fear of being judged or ridiculed. This is especially true if you ask them to do something to be shared with others. 
  3. Even if you share a possible solution, take it easy, don’t force them to use your solution because they will try their best to come up with all the reasons why it won’t work. And if they’re headed that way, gently challenge them to think of all the ways your solution might work. 

Number 3 above is the ultimate test because it sets them up for failure or success; there’s no in-between. If they actively explore possibilities, you’re in luck because they will realise why your solution might work or even come up with something even better! Something perfect for them. 

If, however, they don’t participate, you should do your best to disengage with them immediately. If they’re part of your team, realign them to another group or leave them to their wits. Next time they come around to waste your time, coach them to develop a solution themselves. They might struggle, fumble to get to a solution, but it’ll be theirs. Worst case scenario, they might end up leaving the meeting dissatisfied, which is good as they will waste less of your time. 

The bottom line is this — when people ask you for answers, coach them to think for themselves instead of giving them a solution upfront. Let them work a little harder intellectually, and they will appreciate your time more. If you’re short on time, provide them with a solution and test them to see if they can think beyond the reasons your solution might not work; if they can’t feel, disengage immediately. 

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