The Zone of Uncomfortable Debate

I ran across an old post from one of my fave blogs, Flip Chart Fairy Tales, and I wanted to share it with you. It’s about the Zone of Uncomfortable Debate (aka ZOUD).

Simply put, the ZOUD is a place conversations go to question the status quo. It’s uncomfortable discussion. It might be perceived as conflict or combative. People might become defensive. In the post on Flip Chart Fairy Tales, Rick discusses how long a person / team can effectively operate in the ZOUD. It’s a really good read.

As individuals, we need to get comfortable with challenging conversation. We all know this isn’t one of our favorite things to do. We want everyone to get along. But sometimes we need to have moments of uncomfortable debate to ultimately take us to a better place.

It reminds me of these business turnaround shows that are really popular right now. You know, like Restaurant Impossible or Hotel Impossible and there’s another one called Restaurant Stakeout. The business is going along…there are all these things that are wrong…and no one wants to talk about it. Absolutely no accountability. Then someone comes in and starts asking questions.

Frankly, they’re not hard questions. But they’re uncomfortable. People have to either step up and justify their actions or they need to admit that they’ve been slacking. And no one likes being in that position. After evaluation, discussion and some tense moments, the business ends up fixing things and moving in a more positive direction.

Yes, I do realize that this is reality television (don’t judge). But you can see its application to real organizational challenges. A company has one of those “elephant in the room” problems. Everyone knows it exists but no one is willing to take it on. The employees snicker about it in the break room. If the group was willing to enter the ZOUD, is it possible that the problem could get fixed?

And if they weren’t able to manage the ZOUD on their own, would they be able to recognize that and bring in some expertise to help them manage the process? Salvation via facilitation.

Ultimately, a key skill for teams is being able to work through business challenges even when it’s uncomfortable for individuals. This means individuals must put the needs of the team and solving challenges above their own. I wonder how many organizations look for that attribute in the hiring process. Hmmm…

Image courtesy of Nancy Newell [Simutis]

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