I live in Texas. In Texas, like in many places, there is an inexplicable population of rabbits. Okay—maybe not inexplicable. We all know how prolific those rabbits are.
When you drive on country roads in West Texas, you see them darting about. Not one or two. Dozens. They raise their ears above the grass, look you in the eyes, and sprint away leaving you watching the tuft of their bums.
Once, while riding with my father in law, I counted more than a hundred rabbits on a single 10-mile stretch of road in Dumas, Texas. Those rabbits often make me think of meetings.
Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting when the question of progress on an important issue comes up? The boss—perhaps you—asks the question, “Hey Bleep, did you get that bleep done? We need to move to the next stage.”
Bleep responds, “Yeah, I’m working on it. I sent an email to…” You then get a blow-by-blow account of how busy Bleep is, why he or she was unable to fulfill that task along with a handful of others, or why someone else was an impediment to the task being accomplished.
In a word—rabbits.
I have been in a number of meetings where the project manager either became distracted by chasing those rabbits and inevitably never returned to the question, or the project management simply became exhausted and let it go. Bleep successfully steered the conversation to a point of distraction. The team walked away from the meeting feeling like nothing was accomplished. Bleep was not held accountable for holding up the progress of the team, and the manager was never the wiser.
Chasing rabbits can crush team morale.
I saw rabbits pop up in another context when my oldest child reached a point where she should be held accountable for chores and her behavior with her sisters. We would hear that deafening squall that some slight had occurred. We would ask, “Why did you do bleep.” Of course, as children do, she explained every reason that it wasn’t her fault—she had asked her sister to stop; her sister started it; she was just trying to get something from her sister’s room.
We may also see it happen in spousal disagreements. An offense occurs and you begin the conversation toward reconciliation. Then, the conversation takes an unfortunate turn toward 10 other slights dredged up from the past. Suddenly, you find yourself far from the original issue, no closer to a resolution, and fatigued at trying.
In most communication—particularly issues where someone is being held accountable—we see rabbits breed before our very eyes.
The pain in the ask is—when they poke their ears above the grass and you see their cotton bums run off the other direction, do you chase them?
Performance and progress often come down to focus.
With my daughter, I have learned to steer the conversation back to the matter at hand. “I understand your sister may have done something wrong also. I will address her. For now, I’m talking to you and want to know why you did what you did.”
Sometimes, that statement requires repeating.
In spousal disputes, it takes discipline to recognize when the conversation is heading somewhere you don’t want to go. You may have to steer back to center with, “Hold on. It sounds like there are other issues we need to deal with, but I really want us to handle what we were originally concerned about.”
In meetings, it takes focus to steer the conversation back toward accountability. “When did you send the email. Did you follow-up with a call? When will we have resolution. We need a firm deadline when the team can expect progress so that we can move forward. I expect clarity by tomorrow.”
As gruesome as it sounds—learn to kill the rabbits—or, at least, don’t chase them.