Image: The Mars ’98 Climate Orbiter was lost because of confusion over whether a number was metric or not!
Physics is not my best subject (to put it mildly). But I do understand the concept of trajectory, because it applies to conversations as well as bodies moving through space.
Simply put, the idea is that if you launch a conversation at the wrong angle, you’re going to end up very far from where you intended.
Don’t Try This at Home
Next week, my husband and I are going to Chicago, and we were invited to tour the Art Institute with some relatives. I really didn’t want to go; but I also figured he should be consulted.
Now here’s where things began to go off course. Instead of asking, “Hey, is it OK with you if we turn down this invitation, ’cause I really don’t want to go?” I said, “I need your opinion about this invitation.”
Small difference, right? Except that it grew steadily larger as my husband got more and more absorbed in detailing the factors that he wanted to consider before offering an opinion. (Opinions are weightier things for some of us than for others.) Factors like: Where is the museum located? How would we get there from out hotel? How long would the tour last?, etc.
Just as with spaceships, it can be hard to change conversational course in mid-flight. The more earnestly he attempted to do what I’d asked (give an opinion), the more frustrated and annoyed I became, because — oh, yeah! — I really didn’t want to go. But I’d launched a “polite” conversation instead of an accurate one; no wonder it crashed and burned!
Here’s How It Works at Work
Asking for help on the job can be a great way to build relationships, but it works best if you use the help you get.
That’s why it’s important to ask for the right thing. Asking for ideas when you really want advice, or approval when you really want ideas can do both you and your colleague a disservice. (You, if you appear less in charge than you are; your colleague, if they waste time offering input you don’t want.)
So next time you launch a colleague conversation, ask yourself first whether what you want is:
1. Ideas (“Jane, how would you go about accomplishing X?”)
2. Advice (“Jane, could you review my ideas about X and give me your feedback?”)
3. Affirmation (“Jane, I’d like to do X; are you OK with that?”)
Knowing what you really want can help you cut down on crash-and-burns… and launch conversations whose trajectories will take you where you actually want to go!