By Lisa Gschwandtner
As a sales leader, you want to welcome new ideas and innovation. Unfortunately, during meetings, many leaders can’t see past what Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, coauthors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, call “behavioral blind spots.”
In their book, Stone and Heen discuss the case of “Zoe,” who prided herself on the way she nurtured her team’s creativity during weekly brainstorming meetings. She didn’t realize, however, that people called her Annie Oakley behind her back. “As in, ‘she shoots down every idea,’” write Stone and Heen.
Zoe might never have become aware of the problem had she not decided to have a team member record a few of their meetings using a smartphone. “Zoe was stunned when she listened to the recording,” they write. Here are some of the phrases she heard herself utter:
“Here’s why I doubt that can work.”
“Here’s what I’m worried about.”
During brainstorming meetings, you might think you’re setting high standards or providing constructive feedback when, in fact, others see you as hypercritical. Try these three tips for leading a terrific brainstorming session.
Tip #1: Don’t worry about controlling the meeting.
Zoe truly believed in the benefit of new ideas. The problem was that she was afraid of wasting time during the meetings. Remember, creative energy needs room to breathe. Allow the ideas to flow, and stop worrying that you need to keep the meeting on track.
Tip #2: Stay open, positive, and curious.
Negativity quickly stifles creativity. Even if you can tell that an idea is not going to work, avoid saying so right away. Instead, see if you can pick one aspect of the idea that you immediately like, and focus on that.
For example, if someone suggests a customer-loyalty initiative but you can tell the plan is going to be prohibitively expensive, you might respond by saying, “What I like about this idea so far is that it addresses our key accounts. Let’s see if we can build on that.”
Brainstorming sessions are not the time to challenge ideas. There will be plenty of time to apply critical thinking after you develop ideas more and decide if you want to pursue them.
Tip #3: Plan ahead to capture ideas.
Although it’s ideal to let ideas flow freely, the lack of structure can sometimes mean that ideas become lost once everyone goes back to their desks. If this happens more than once, your team members are likely to be left feeling as though you’ve wasted their time. As a result, they might invest less effort in volunteering ideas.
Ask a good note-taker who’s not a core part of the team to attend the meeting and devote his or her full attention to capturing the ideas. Before the meeting ends, review the notes aloud to make sure they’re accurate and reflect the spirit of the discussion.
If you’re a sales leader, remember that your tone, attitude, and behavior sets the tone for the rest of your team. Also bear in mind that the way you perceive yourself is not necessarily the way others perceive you. Even if you don’t have doubts about how you’re coming across, try recording a meeting or two the way Zoe did. That way, you’ll hear the evidence for yourself.
How do you encourage the free flow of ideas when brainstorming with your sales team?
Lisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director at Selling Power and Media Manager of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.