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The Right Phrase at the Right Time: Priceless

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Sep 25, 2007 |
Saying the right thing at the right time can transform an interaction.  But it's difficult!  In a recent StickyMinds article, Michele Sliger suggested a handful of phrases to help keep the conversation going in the right direction. She addressed personal conflicts, meetings and more.

Agile requires us to shift our expectations and our actions. But we need to recognize that we do come into Agile with habits formed under another system. A meeting facilitator can be useful to help shift habits by asking some simple questions that reframe situations. For starters, there's the phrase now made famous by Dr. Phil: "And how is that working out for you?" to refocus the speaker on results. Then there's "What did he say when you told him that?"  to toss the ball back to a complainer who is trying to get you to play go-between.

How often have you wanted to say "Is this discussion helping us achieve our purpose?" One of the benefits of recognizing a facilitator for meetings is that there is someone actively watching out for rat-holes and red herrings (discussions that get off track), who can put this question to the group. Once a group gets used to facilitated discussions (rather than old-style chaos shouting matches or quiet "experts only" conversations) team members will probably start to do this themselves, as a way to contribute to group effectiveness.

She also addressed the possibilities and difficulties of the "Yes, and..." approach, taught in many CSM classes:
Use "Yes, and . . ." instead of "Yes, but . . ." It might be difficult to do at first and takes some practice, but this is a beneficial phrase for allowing a conversation to continue.

By saying "Yes, but . . ." you are effectively telling the other person that you are discarding everything she just said and presenting your idea as the only real option. This ... other person, may feel like you've just dismissed her instead of acknowledging and exploring her idea. Responding with "Yes, and . . ." says, "I've heard you, and I'm willing to continue this discussion with you," without agreeing with her statement.
Read the article, Discussion Toolkit, to see what Sliger said about using other phrases, including a positive "No."

You needn't wait to be named "facilitator" or "ScrumMaster" to start helping your team by judiciously using these phrases!

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