The Zone of Uncomfortable Debate: how often have we been there? It could be arguments about a team’s direction, tackling the failure to reach targets set, asking why an employee takes so much time off sick – the list is endless. And what are leaders to do to encourage people to step into this zone?
Today’s environment consists of pressure on business to make profits in shrinking markets, or launch new products in a growing market, rising levels of stress and reducing levels of productivity, digitising of the workplace etc etc. It’s a challenge to be sure. Poor leaders get sucked into doing nothing thereby perpetuating a negative working climate. Good leadership is demonstrated when the leader takes up the challenge, steps into the zone and supports the team to work effectively whilst in it.
The 6 step challenge
How to do that? Well according to Cranfield School there are 6 steps:
1.Prepare people, process and place
2.Make ZOUD discussions an executive team competence
3.Find the right starting point and pace for ‘too difficult’ issues by taking a stepwise approach
4.Maintain a productive perspective
5.Act with emotional intelligence and political awareness
6.Leave the ZOUD before leaving the room
The 1 step solution
I think it’s simpler than that. I believe that there’s just one step needed and that’s to bring a Thinking Environment to the problem.
When you’re dealing with ZOUD you’re dealing with possible intransigence, deeply held values and beliefs, egos, behaviours and practices. People have to protect their space, their position and their power. It’s an uphill battle to navigate the path through and can be exhausting.
When you have a Thinking Environment the scene is set for egos to be put to one side, for power differentials to be equalised, for emotions to be explored in a safe space, for difficult questions to be asked in a way that allows a deep, generative thinking and for teams to come together. Individuals become their own Thinking Environment.
Superficially simple yet deeply complex
Whenever I’ve run workshops people are blown away by the power of something that has a paradox about it: superficially simple yet deeply complex. Their thought processes are profoundly changed and the outcomes far beyond those previously imagined because you have set the environment where people have #TimetoThink.
As a starter for 10 let people know that they will not be interrupted. Listen attentively, with curiosity for their thoughts can go to amazing places; places that might ignite a diversity of thinking in those around them and give answers to questions they didn't even know they had.
It’s a skill that can be taken into all works of life and into all types of organisation at every level. Every person will show leadership at some point, even if they don’t recognise it. Every person will at some point have a ZOUD moment. It’s at that moment when, instead of taking 6 steps, take one. Step into #TimetoThink and become the Thinking Environment.
To find out more about the Thinking Environment and how you can introduce it to your organisation to deal with ZOUD, get in touch by emailing us
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.