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Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Jeff Shuck
May 23, 2017

Have you ever been in an awkward meeting? I've attended my share, and probably have been responsible for more than a few, too. I've noticed that one thing that separates useful meetings from awkward meetings is a willingness to go down the rabbit hole.

Let me explain.

I was in a meeting several weeks ago and things got a bit contentious. The speaker was presenting to a group of about a dozen of us, trying to explain a somewhat complicated topic. Rather than slow down to make sure that everyone understood the salient points, he started to rush the conversation along.

The group got frustrated and began to ask further clarifying questions: "Can you help us understand the implications of your previous statement? Can you repeat what you meant by what you said a moment ago?" The mood wasn't hostile, but it wasn't warm either. I would describe it as "rigorous curiosity": people were confused, but they were also interested. They wanted to explore and understand.

The speaker seemed more focused on getting to the end of his PowerPoint deck than he was on getting the group to a common understanding. Finally, a bit exasperated, he said, "That's an interesting question, but let's not go down any rabbit holes here."

You can imagine the effect of that statement. The chance for a deeper dialogue was lost. Most people clammed up or rolled their eyes. Everyone quieted down. We got to the end of the PowerPoint slides, but we never did get to the bottom of the discussion.

The thing is, productive conversations are usually not about the things we all agree on. Productive conversations involve the elusive truth we're trying to find, together. Productive conversations are about finding the rabbit. Different people search for the rabbit in different ways, which can make productive conversations sometimes feel tense and rigorous.

But when we all agree that our shared intention is a genuine desire to help one another find the truth, we don't have to be afraid of "tense and rigorous." We can explore that territory, together. You can look for the rabbit at the edge of the woods, and I can look in the tall grasses, and we can compare what we find.

Because ultimately, if we want to find the rabbit, we have to find the rabbit hole. We have to be willing to go all the way down.

For help creating more effective communication and deeper alignment among your leadership team, we recommend Meridian — our strategy and positioning process designed for teams like yours.

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