My sons are lovely human beings. They're helpful, funny, big-hearted, and cute. They are also extraordinarily challenging, each in his own way. Which is why I continuously seek out resources and information to help me deal with them, and to attempt to stay sane in the process.

Last week I went to a conference to learn how to do collaborative problem-solving with difficult kids. The timing couldn't have been better - my kids had just had a full-scale, screaming argument and I told them they had to work out a contract with each other, with me facilitating the conversation. It took two days for them to be willing to come to the table, where I used what I had just learned about a "collaborative mindset".

This phrase describes an attitude that, no matter how disappointed or pissed off you are with another person, you truly believe that he or she is capable of working it out with you. You also believe that somewhere deep down inside, the other person has a legitimate concern and a good idea or two for solving the problem.

Here’s what I learned about using a "collaborative mindset" model:

  • It is simple, but not easy
  • Everyone gets to air his or her concerns before offering solutions
  • Jumping too early into solutions messes up the collaborative part, and really messes up the possibility of a durable solution
  • That I love to impose my will (my kids would agree)
  • Here’s what else I learned:

  • That I already teach this model to adults in many sales management and leadership programs. It’s called balanced feedback
  • It’s very powerful
  • Those with a true collaborative mindset let go of the need to be a genius and let the other person take the lead in offering solutions
  • Timing is everything. Don’t aim for collaborative solutions when emotions are high, but schedule a time to talk when everyone can think calmly and clearly.
  • Here are three steps sales managers can use:

    Here are three simple steps that you can use to solve problems once and for all, using the "collaborative mindset" approach. They apply to your salespeople, bosses, suppliers, colleagues, kids, significant others, or anyone who matters to you. Use them to directly deal with another person, or to facilitate a conversation as I did with my kids.

    1. Start with "I’ve noticed…"
    Your statement (preferably brief) will set the context and tone for the conversation.
    With my kids I said: "I’ve noticed that you guys continue to bug and fight with each other, and I’m guessing that you’d like to have it stop. I’ll bet that if we put the issues on the table and talk about them, we can probably solve the problem together."

    To an employee, you might say: "I’ve noticed that you’re very quiet in our sales meetings. What’s up?"

    To your boss, you might say: "I’ve noticed that I’m feeling overwhelmed since I started this project. I’d like to talk about it, to see if we can figure out what is going on."

    To your supplier, you might say: "We have an important and valuable business relationship. Lately, I’ve noticed that there are a number of billing mistakes, and it’s causing tension between our companies. I know we can figure out what’s going on."

    2. Define the problem
    Ask each party (including yourself) the nature of the problem. Concerns may initially seem obvious ("you’re fighting", "not selling enough", "not speaking up in sales meetings"). However, for each of these obvious statements, a variety of not-so-obvious reasons may be causing the problem. So, be a detective and ask the obvious: "What is your real concern?"

    The skill here is to dig underneath the first statements, as facilitator or participant, and allow the underlying concerns to surface. Then each participant can recap the concerns on the table, to make sure everyone heard the same things. The agreed-upon concerns define the problem that needs a solution.

    This part of the conversation should be the longest. Resist, resist, resist the temptation to jump to solutions here.

    Scenario A:

  • What were my sons’ concerns about fighting? They said they didn’t have quick ways to stop the escalation, before someone blew up or got whacked.
  • What were my concerns about their fighting? That it’s an inappropriate way to manage their differences, and their tempers, and I want them to learn other ways.
  • Definition of this problem: Find appropriate ways to handle their anger towards each other and to de-escalate quickly.
  • Scenario B:
    What is the salesperson’s concern about not selling enough?
    Possible answers might be:

  • Not making enough income
  • Getting fired
  • Not pulling weight
  • Not knowing why sales numbers are down
  • What is the sales manager’s concern about the salesperson not selling enough?

    Possible answers might be:

  • The situation creates tension between me and the salesperson
  • My team isn’t meeting the company’s sales targets
  • I’m seen as an ineffective manager
  • My department doesn’t get the resources to develop a high performance team
  • Definition of this problem: If the salesperson’s concern is 'not making enough income', and the manager’s concern is "creating tension," the problem is that the salesperson needs to make enough income and, somehow, they need to reduce the tension between them.

    3. Invitation to a solution
    Once the problem is crisply defined, coming up with a durable solution is often straightforward.

    With the emphasis on collaborative mindset, as a participant or facilitator, give someone else the first opportunity to generate ideas. Ask, "Do you have any ideas?" and then let others talk. While you may have ideas, your job is to be collaborative, not a genius. There is plenty of time to offer your ideas.

    Keep going until there are enough ideas on the table that all parties find some that are mutually acceptable. Then explore ways to hold each person accountable, and write those ways down.

    Author's Bio: 

    Nicki Weiss is the founder of SalesWise, a Toronto-based sales coaching and sales training company. Nicki is a certified sales management coach, master training and seminar leader. Join up for her free newsletter today!