Wait a Minute, What Just Happened Here?

Using confusion to uncomplicate your project.

Scott and I worked together before joining forces at R. Alliance. It was a global project with a lot of stress. Yet, we got along well. Our ideas lined up and we were always on the same side of the issues.

Earlier this year we began reshaping this company. We still had stress, but not the kind that keeps you awake from anxiety. The kind that motivates you. There were lengthy philosophical conversations about our vision for the future and the project to re-launch R. Alliance. Talking and working from this big picture perspective, we were closely in sync.

Our project progressed and conversations we assumed would be a ‘slam dunk’ took longer than anticipated. Sometimes we fell into protracted discussions, which we wrote off as growing pains or an exchange of ideas, all part of our learning curve.

confusionMoving farther into the tactical aspects of the project, we found ourselves frequently engaged in deliberations (ok, debates) only to be resolved, sometimes days later, by realizing we were arguing the same point. But we were hearing two different messages. This is generally the point where the Scooby Doo look appeared on our faces and we wondered, “What just happened here? We debated the same point for two days and we were in agreement the whole time???”

Talk about confusing. As this happened more regularly, we got frustrated and then things got complicated. Decisions got much harder. Suddenly that good stress became the dreaded anxiety stress.

We looked at ways to establish and work our agenda (aka: added process to what we were doing). Then we adjusted our communication styles (aka: added appreciation for personal preferences to what we were doing). Still, from time to time we’d hit a road block and just be stuck.

The other day, by chance, Scott walked in as I unpacked a box of jumbo Space Bags. Here’s my recollection of the conversation:

Him: “Oh cool. How do those work?”

Me: “You know they have the thing on them that lets the air out.”

Him: “It comes with a pump?”

Me: “No it’s a valve for the vacuum.”

Him: “So it has a pump.”

Me: “No a plastic valve.”

Seriously?! We are both bright people yet Space Bags was a challenging conversation and we couldn’t clear up the misunderstanding. Obviously we had stopped listening to each other because we were so bewildered at this point the depth of the miscommunication wasn’t even clear. (My next blog will describe just how bad this was.)

My eyes now wide with that sense of “Arrghhhh” I opened the bag and literally showed him.

Him: “Yea, a pump.”

Me: “This? It’s a valve!”

Him: “Right, which hooks to a pump.”

Wait, ding ding ding! We are talking about the same idea but we aren’t saying the same thing. By assuming the other person’s meaning and point of view we misinterpreted what was said, creating heaps of confusion. I hate being confused, don’t you?

Looking back on our larger debates, we found the sense of confusion reigned there too. Given our prior work together, we presumed we knew each other well enough to charge ahead without explaining our ideas or viewpoints – not to mention our vocabulary. Turns out technical gurus and human capital gurus have very (VERY!) different ideas of what “process” and “people” mean. Such a simple solution to what was becoming a major complication and headache (not to mention jeopardizing our project plan): stop and get an explanation.

When that sense of confusion creeps up, the one that sounds like “Huh?” in your head or makes your face wrinkle, stop what you are doing. Pause for a moment to see what is causing it. Locate the source of confusion. Look for any assumptions that were made. Check your alignment and understanding of the topic and issues at a very basic level.

Confusion is a sign of a disconnection. Use it as a tool to uncover the source of that disorder. Then it’s much simpler to resolve things and get back on track.

What’s confusing you lately?


When something isn’t working out as planned ask yourself, “Could there be confusion causing this disruption?” Its a perfect Reflection to capture at www.MeetMaple.com.

Originally published on November 3, 2011

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