Last week, I had an employee come in and tell me how something is unacceptable. The details of the thing that was unacceptable aren’t important. As I sat there, considering how to best respond to this “unacceptable” situation, I wondered if the employee knew what she had done by using that word to start the discussion.
Merely stating that something is unacceptable, without offering up potential solutions, isn’t helpful. The recipient of the news (in this case, the manager) is placed in a position of having to extract additional information, and then determine if there are any acceptable alternatives. Of course, since one situation has already been deemed unacceptable, it’s quite possible that one or more of the alternatives may be similarly unacceptable.
It goes even deeper than that. By starting the conversation in a deep hole of unacceptability, the potential for finding an alternative that is not just acceptable, but ideal, is very low. In other words, finding an ideal solution is probably not going to be the goal. Rather, it will be to find something that is at best “not unacceptable.”
There’s a mindset at play in the person who chooses to use words like “unacceptable” on a regular basis. That mindset is focused on off-loading responsibility for finding solutions to someone else. It is focused on creating short-term impact at the expense of a longer-term environment for success and collaboration.
It’s true that some things in life are unacceptable to us. When these situations arise, we have an opportunity to express this from the perspective of trying to find a more ideal solution. If your manager or co-worker holds the keys to an “unacceptable” situation, describe it with words like “challenging,” “difficult,” or possibly use the situation as a pivot point to what you see as more ideal alternatives. Bring an understanding of the pro’s and con’s of your alternatives to the discussion.
Building collaboration is much easier when we seek ideal solutions together, rather than merely working independently to avoid the unacceptable.