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Separate the Person from the Idea

Separate the Person from the Idea

Separate the Person from the Idea

A quick leadership thought: In discussions and brainstorming, work really hard to separate the person from the idea. I’ve seen the inability to do this derail many a meeting and planning session. From time to time, all of us are guilty of placing too much ego in our idea or thought. We throw out a point and find ourselves defending it like it’s the last chip in the bag! An open discussion designed to work toward optimal solutions and health devolves into a struggle to be the smartest person in the room.

Healthy debate is easy if no one is taking the results personally. Most heated debates involve people who have trouble separating their opinions from their identity (the lack of ability to find any humor in a debate is a good sign that someone is taking the issue too seriously). If I draw what turns out to be a lame idea on a whiteboard, in a healthy culture it’s reinforced that the idea is lame but I’m not. I can still be smart and valuable. Perhaps my lame idea will help lead to a great one. This trust in coworkers is what allows ideas to be debated, attacked, torn down, twisted, reused, and improved without any fear of offending anyone. Most successful creative cultures in history were based on this separation. It’s another set of behaviors that leaders must demonstrate regularly.  Scott Berkun on

Don’t be too hard on yourself…we all do it. It’s difficult not to. Like our children, we want everyone to believe that our ideas are the smartest and best looking in the room. That’s okay for parents and their kids; it’s not so good for extending conversation and achieving the best result. This next quote is great:

When you offer an idea or a suggestion, and someone reacts by suggesting a small or large change, concentrate not on how to defend your original idea but on the fact that something you have done has inspired something in someone else.  Drew Dudley from Nuance Leadership

Here are a few thoughts that may help you and your team check a few egos and boost a few ideas:

  • Give everyone a chance to speak. If you, like me, tend to dominate conversation and “fill the void,” take a deep breath and resist the urgent need to speak into every silence.
  • Be open to the possibility that someone else might really have a better idea OR a better slant on yours.
  • Take notes. When ideas are being discussed, write them down. Collect your thoughts. Consider the merits and demerits of each idea.
  • Be objective. Don’t respond too negatively or enthusiastically at first. Let things percolate a bit.
  • Don’t be defensive. In a brainstorming situation, everything ought to be fair game and open to a little scrutiny.
  • Be careful of “shutdown language” and gestures. Statements like, “That will never work” or “We’ve tried that before,” can bring discussion to a grinding halt. Rolling your eyes, shrugging, slumping…body language can really be a wet blanket, too.
  • Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. When you disagree, are you trying to hurt someone else’s feelings? Absolutely (at least I hope) not. You are responding to an idea not a person. So are they.
  • Remember the goal: the BEST idea. Rarely is the best idea created unilaterally. Not every time, but certainly most of the time, the best idea is a product of collaboration and group-think.

If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, both are useless.  Darryl F. Zanuck

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.  Henry Ford

No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.  Althea Gibson


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