Leadership team relationships, relationships between two interdependent functional heads and boss & direct report relationships all encounter issues. Discussion around the issues inevitably leads to pointing to a “lack of communication” as the source of the problem.

And the issue often gets left there…continuing to fester between them.

In my coaching of such relationships I’ve had the opportunity to see the results of a seemingly simple exercise that can have dramatic impact on shifting the dynamics. In the Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching training I’ve been taking, we were introduced to an exercise where part of the process is placing the problem out in front, instead of in between the relationship. Literally using a small object as a physical representation of the issue, the exercise involves having the parties move to sit facing the problem and work together as a team to resolve the issue.

Instead of a generic “lack of communication”, the problem naming often moves to a deeper level. “Undermining behavior”, “different core values”, “lack of respect” etc. are some that my clients have uncovered. There’s something powerful about literally seeing the newly-named issue out on the table in front and standing back with the two partners, or members of the team to look at the issue and to support them in brainstorming possible solutions together.

Simple but so big!

I had the joy of witnessing two of three company owners wrestling with a very core and sensitive issue between them..struggling to name the issue and then boom…the 3rd partner crisply and cleanly called it out. He named the thing in the middle of the table and it was exactly right. The relief in the room created by naming the issue was palpable.

Full problem-resolution didn’t come in that first discussion, but the burden was lightened and since then, the three have been able to move to a deeper discussion of ways to address the issue.
So…next time you find yourself wrestling with something ambiguous between you and another person at work– or a team is struggling with something that is weighing them down– try moving the issue where it can be addressed more objectively…out in front.