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On Dead Elephants & Communication


“You’ve got a gift” – so said one of my guys after a fantastic meeting with one of our customers.

Don’t know whether I agree with him.  Whatever gifts I may have, I probably don’t use as much as I should.  However, I digress.

The real essence of this post is that we, as professionals, need to be aware of the issues that are confronting our customers and, if we are unclear, ask better questions to enable us to get to the guts of the issue.  This is a skill that I am still learning – although I understand that I will never perfect it.

The discussion with our customer was meant to be about getting some clarity about their goals for their business.  We had the meeting booked in for a while and had let them know that this was the purpose of the discussion.  They arrived late (normally not a great sign – putting it off), which flagged a possible issue with the process about to be undertaken.

The discussion opened up with them identifying some frustrations they were experiencing with one of their team members.  It then progressed on to analysis of the communication styles adopted by both people and, how not fully appreciating the communication style of the recipient and tailoring the message for their needs might have been the actual cause of the frustration in the first place.

This then led to a discussion about the style of the owner of the business.  They started to open up as our discussion developed around why they were aware of the style they had and the impact it could have on their team, they made the statement “I know this, but I’m not doing it”.  That then caused the question to be asked “why not”?

Source: polarzoo.com.kr

Source: polarzoo.com.kr

And that’s when the really positive stuff started.  Suffice to say, the tissue box got a bit of a hammering as they opened up about external issues (non work-related) that were impacting on them and had been impacting on them for some time.  It was fantastic as we could now understand why the business, which has incredible potential, has been stagnating and not exploiting the  numerous opportunities that have presented themselves.

The owner of the business has simply not been in the emotional state they needed to be in to enable them to drive and direct the business.  Powerful.  Meaningful.  Honest.

So, we did what all accountants do, and walked through the journey they have been on (isn’t that what all accountants do?) to enable them to fully verbalise the feelings they had been having and to enable them to understand that they had massive opportunity in the team – if only they could trust themselves to “let go” a bit.  About half way through this discussion, they indicated that they would go home and cry all afternoon.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

However, as we continued to talk through the issues and acknowledge the impact they had on the owner and the business, the air seemed to clear a bit.  By getting the issues out in a non-judgmental and non-confrontational environment, we were able to help them see that the “fork in the road” wasn’t actually anything to be feared and that the way they were feeling was OK.

The discussion eventually returned to the communication with the team (that’s where it all started remember) and how it can be improved.  They will be undertaking some Trimetrix Reporting with the team to allow everyone to better understand and appreciate the differences in the team communication styles and create an environment for better communication within the group.

Our customer could then see that there was a path forward and, whilst acknowledging the impact of the issues outside of work, started to get refocused back on their business.  We made commitments as far as setting some goals (some wonderful additional opportunities came out in this discussion) – the big battle will be getting the goals prioritised over the coming month or so – there are so many opportunities for this business we have to narrow them down and align them to the goals that will be fleshed out.

At the end of the meeting, we recommended that they go home to enable them to have the big cry they had earlier said they needed.  “No – don’t need that now.  I’m feeling a lot better”.

A really positive outcome was achieved by creating the environment and asking better questions (usually the ones starting with “why”) to get to the core of an issue.  Unless you carve up the elephant in the room, it crowds everything else out.

Don’t think I have a gift, but I’ve got a dead elephant in meeting room one and I need more tissues.

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