And They All Went Woof!

Monday, March 12th, 2012

And They All Went Woof!

I just saw a wonderful Charles Barsotti cartoon in an old New Yorker.

Two ducks, a pig, a fish, and a cat sit at a conference table. Each, in turn says “woof.” The dog at the head of the table says, “Everybody gets a raise.”

I’ve been in meetings where everybody says woof. When it’s your meeting, it’s a really nice sound, all those woofs. Makes you feel good, like you’ve done it again, and come up with yet another brilliant idea. But there is a danger in hearing all those woofs. Maybe the people at the table don’t really want to say woof. And maybe hearing other sounds might serve you better.

So, once you get over yourself, here are three that might help you get some real responses.

Prime the Pump. It was common to pour a little water down old backyard pumps to encourage the water in the well to come up to the surface. (I don’t know why that works either.) You could try the same thing. If you get a chorus of woofs and you really don’t think you can trust that universal show of support, you could just ask, “So what do you really think?” In a culture where people protect themselves by hiding the truth, that straightforward approach probably won’t work. So, you can prime the pump by asking, “I’m glad you like this idea, but could we look at the impact that this will have on staffing?” Or, you could say “the budget?” or “the impact on staffing of other current projects?”


Coffee with Joe. (Jo can be either gender, by the way.) Joe is the type of person who will tell you how he or she sees it. The Jo’s of the world don’t understand the phrase “career limiting move.” I recommend having just a cup of coffee, because you probably don’t want to hear their rants for much more than ten minutes.

Go Into the Belly of the Beast.  Tell people, “Glad you like my idea. Now, here’s what I want each of you to do. Take out a sheet of paper and write down all the things that could go wrong with it.” And then shut up and give people time to write. Write all the responses on a flip chart or white board and then get curious. Ask questions. Learn – don’t defend.

And if you still get woofs after trying any of those ideas, then your problem is a lot bigger than just running an effective meeting.

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