Read the Room! How the Union Steward Gained Clarity and Experienced a Breakthrough
In the fall of 2015 I was asked to deliver a “team building” workshop for a field office of a government agency stuck in conflict with its local union. I didn’t realize how stuck until two hours into our session when we came back from break.
Prior to arriving we had everyone take the Gallup Strengthsfinder assessment. We also used CoreClarity as a supplemental tool to rebuild relationship bridges unpacking what people naturally did best and enjoyed most.
In the photo you can see some of the materials. The pipe cleaners and “toys” allow some who get restless and distracted sitting to play with some objects and pay better attention. When we returned from break one of an associate who was attending to learn made the comment, “Hey look at how creative Steve’s display is!”
Steve was one of the primary union complainants. He also sat to my right in my peripheral view and his body language was clear. “This is a waste of time!!.”
I said to my associate, “Hmmm, I think this is a message, let’s find out.”
When everyone returned I turned to my right.
“So Steve, that’s a pretty creative mousetrap. Would you like to share it with the group?”
“You damn consultants! You think you can pop in here bring in some new mousetrap, fix us and leave!”
My pulse picked up a bit but with a deep breath I simply asked, “So you don’t think any of the conversation we’ve had so far about one another’s talents and wiring has any value?”
“No. It’s all a bunch of BS!”
“So are you telling me that your results aren’t accurate?”
“No, like I said it’s a bunch of BS!”
This was, as you can imagine, a pivotal point. Steve established himself as the “challenger.” I could have certainly taken him on and challenged him back. I learned that this is a common trap and even if I had won – I would have lost the group. I picked up Steve’s profile and held it before the group.
“Steve, I certainly don’t know you and have no idea if these are accurate or not. You colleagues seem to know you pretty well so let’s see what they think.”
Turning to the whole group I began.
“So Steve’s first talent is Deliberative. Does he enjoy bursting your idea bubbles with harsh reality?”
The group, “Ohhh, yah! That’s Steve.”
“His second talent is Analytical. He he generally a skeptic and enjoys pointing out what you missed on a document?”
“Ohhh, yah! That’s Steve.”
“His third talent is Context. Does Steve have a long memory and recounts history and old history when issues come up?”
“Wow – that sure is Steve.”
“So Steve, I’ll bet you like to watch military history on the history channel.”
“I watch it all the time, how did you know that?”
“Now that you’ve heard from your colleagues, what do you think of the accuracy?”
Steve chuckled, “Well, I guess it nailed me and probably explains why I’ve been married three times.”
The room broke out in laughter and more importantly the momentum dramatically shifted and the two days resulted in incredible relational breakthroughs and contract progress.
Steve approached me at the end of the first day. “Do you think I could have my son take this assessment? I’ve been having a hard time connecting and he’s not sure what he wants to do. This might help.” This happens often in our workshops and ironically it often happens with people who start out like Steve.
When I debriefed with my associate he wanted to know how to turn the momentum when a group is negative at the outset. I said that there was really no formula. I read the room and looked for a moment to engage, go off script and try to expose an elephant in the room.
I was able to read the room because I had mastered the content and had studied this particular group’s profiles. That gave me the freedom to focus on the people dynamics. You can’t plan breakthrough moments and if your comfort is delivering the content or following the agenda then you’ll miss those moments.