42nd Street Company (#42stc)

The truth session effect

By on October 26, 2013

“Whenever there is a problem, it’s a people problem”, Gerald Weinberg

A lot of the real problems we are face with cover people related issues. In a lot of cases, just talking and clarifying an issue would do a lot towards solving such problems. But for some reason, it’s not always easy to just talk. We need something to make us start talking. (But oddly enough, once we get started, talking is not a problem …

I once saw an excellent solution to this problem in an American movie. Unfortunately I forgot the title. The solution is to have a truth session!

The rules are simple. If you and a friend have a problem and find it difficult to talk about it, then buy plenty of alcohol,  sit down in front of each other, start drinking! Once you get drunk enough, you will start talking, and when you get even more drunk, you will start talking about the problem and probably even find a way to solve it.

The hidden magic seems to be that it’s easier to talk when we have something to put in between us. E.g. in Finland it’s also permissible to talk about the weather, and a lot conversations stop and start with just that topic.

The truth session effect is something that I came to think about some years ago, when I was told that a lot of consultancy work is about bringing out solutions in companies that are already there, but have just not been discovered yet. Or, similarly, but thinking about the old saying that the one to see a problem is also the best to solve it.

To bring out the issues, we have invented tools, like e.g. simple brainstorming, slightly more advanced techniques like SWOT analysis, or full scale analythical frameworks like CMM and ISO9001.

If a problem is important enough, then these tools will surface it.  Alcohol is by far the most popular – among some people at least – but many of the others are more appropriate for normal work situations 🙂

Their purpose is to make people talk – and feel safe while they do so.

I once had a small job as an external consultant. The main part of the job was to talk with two employees and try to understand the problem behind a solution they had considered implementing and first try to understand the real problem After a while, we came to understand the problem and based on that defined a totally different solution. After the job was completed, I met the manager, with whom I had never met directly before. He congratulated me on my ability  “really understand the problem”. I never felt that I did, but certainly the two persons I worked with did. My role had been mainly to act as a mirror. In this case, me as the mirror, worked like some kind of “drug”, to make people talk, listen and see.

It was not at all me. It was the people, and only with those people anything could have been done. Therefore, be carefull to recognise the “help” you get from this effect.

Especially remember that the person to see a problem is NOT always the best to solve it! Because, sometimes that problem is not the real problem, and no solution would ever work.

Once you realize that the “truth session” is there to bring up the topics already inside you, you can use that as an appropriate way to select the “drug” you need. If you are not aware of this, you have the risk of being taken totally by surprise.

I have often experience managers being resistant against using CMM or some other analytic tool, and then after having seen the results, they bend over backwards from joy.

Instead they should go home and take a deep look in the mirror and ask why they did never think of something like this before and why things like this was needed to bring the issues up.

It’s all about asking the right questions at the right time. There are no magic solutions, but some drugs work better than others …