In decision-making, begin with love

Conversations about solutions often begin with what isn’t possible. But starting with what you love about possible options can energize and motivate your team.

Business management specialist Jennifer Riel was facilitating a conversation about an adaptive problem when she asked a question that changed the atmosphere in the room.

“What do you love about this solution?”

As group members considered different solutions to a problem they were facing, this question lifted their energy and creative thinking. Riel, the associate director of the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, invited the participants in the Generative Solutions retreat to imagine themselves living into the solutions they were considering.

How often have you experienced decision-making conversations that began by asking what you would love about the possible solutions? Why is it that we are more likely to begin with what we won’t love, or the equivalent of what isn’t possible?

Meetings seem to bring out the hard-wired tendency of groups to begin with the downside of proposed solutions. You have probably helped decorate walls with paper filled with lists and concluded meetings wondering how the final solution actually emerged from the conversation. Typically in these situations, people leave unsure about what to do next.

When Riel asked the participants what they loved, she changed the conversation.

The question focuses on what is most meaningful to those participating in the decision. Using integrative thinking, stakeholders are able to consider how variables they care about can be combined and improved upon to enhance the eventual solution even further.

When individuals can imagine themselves implementing the solution, you have created natural alignment and commitment. Energy for implementation will be easier to muster and maintain.

Because adaptive problems and their potential solutions affect multiple constituents, we teach Generative Solutions participants to view the implementation of new solutions as experiments. Experimenting -- including collecting feedback and making adjustments -- helps contribute to more robust solutions.

We can also apply some form of “What do you love?” to those decisions that leaders must make and implement alone.

For instance, ask yourself: What do I love about having to give difficult feedback to someone I care about? Your answer is probably, “Nothing!” But what if you press on the question a bit more?

Your answers might be: Because they will hear it from someone who cares about them and wants them to succeed. Because it may prevent someone else from providing it, in perhaps a less helpful way.

Consider the alternative: I love the decision not to give feedback now because… Your reasons might be that you need time to prepare with a concrete example of the problematic behavior or that you need a clearer way to describe the impact of the problematic behavior.

How do you foster positive responses to group decision-making?

What do you love about changing to a positive approach when considering alternative solutions to problems with your team?

What do you love about changing to a positive mindset when facing tough individual decisions?