#24 Calling the Question with the Silent, Sugarcoated Moose

by | Jun 21, 2009 | Blog | 0 comments

moose-with-gavel-0032To call or not to call. That is the question.

Why the silly paraphrase of the Hamlet’s Soliloquy: “To be or not to be”?

Well it’s no laughing matter to me, who usually can find some humor even in sober topics. In fact, this subject is almost on the verge of tragic…not to be too melodramatic. Here’s why.

First some background. “Call the question” has two meanings in business settings—primarily meetings.

The first one I learned was to call the question to stop debate during meetings, generally those following Robert’s Rules of Order. For those not familiar with this book, now in its 10th edition, it’s the authoritative rule book for deliberative societies. That is, those groups with 25 people or more.

The second type of “call the question” is a more abstract concept. It’s a technique to ask if the people in the meeting are discussing the most salient issues rather than chit-chatting about less important topics. In other words, is the group confronting the core of the issue? Or are they nibbling at the edges?

So what’s my problem? There are two of them.

In my experience, many groups are eager to end debate before it’s even started.

They and even the groups that enjoy a healthy discussion frequently sidestep around the big, important issues without ever getting to the heart of the matter. Yes, they’re debating, but they’re not addressing the most meaningful issues.

Both situations contribute to organizational dysfunction. So what to do?

The debate closers are easier for me to manage. That’s because I use my knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order to trump them. I tell them that deliberative societies protect the rights of the minority while respecting the wishes of the majority. This means everyone deserves to be heard if they want to speak. This generally shuts up the control freaks and opens up the conversation.

The tip-toers around the issues are more challenging, especially since this situation is endemic these days. Is it because work is so complex, so uncertain, so chaotic? Or, do people prefer to play it safe and avoid all the possible landmines of workplace politics? Or have we lost our ability or willingness to confront one another in a constructive, productive manner?

Through trial and error, I’ve found two methods that work, one serious and one somewhat humorous.

On the serious front, you can be direct, yet diplomatic. Say something like, “We’re talking about X. Is that the real issue, or is it Y?”

On the humorous front, I introduce my Silent, Sugarcoated Moose®,  both the concept and a stuffed moose. When you hold a stuffed moose in your hands and give permission to talk about its silent, sugar-coated features, people can start to realize that they are circling around issues, rather than talking about them directly.

These actions help improve your meeting mojo, which is the focus of several of my LEAN Communications tools.

So what are you doing to improve your meetings, including putting tough topics on the table and discussing them openly?


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