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What Do You (Really) Want

Many times as a manager, people will meet with you because they have a complaint and want to bend your ear. They may be complaining about a colleague, a customer, an assigned project or a project not assigned to them. Often they are convinced they are being treated unfairly.

As a Head of School, I remember an irate parent coming into my office at the start of the summer very upset about her child’s final report card. She felt the assessment was unfair and, not only that, the teacher had been unfair all year to her child.

I listened for a while because I knew the parent needed to blow off some steam and because I wanted to understand if there was any validity to her concerns. After about fifteen minutes, I asked the parent what the ideal outcome of the meeting would be from her perspective.

This question stopped the parent in her tracks. She had not really thought about what a good outcome would be; she just knew she wanted to be heard. As she thought about my question, she was truly stumped. She knew nothing could be done about a year’s worth of report cards. Further she knew, absent some clear mistake or vindictiveness from the teacher, I was not going to change the end of the year report.

She finally said that she wanted me to know her view of this teacher and she was going to be more proactive next year if she felt grading was unfair. I agreed that would be a good plan and she left relatively satisfied.

If you are running a meeting where it seems that everyone is going around in circles, it is often good to ask what an ideal outcome might be. Likewise as you go into a meeting, you should be aware of what you think an ideal outcome would be. You certainly can come to a different position during a meeting but having an end in mind makes for more productive meetings.


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