Imagine you’re at the park on a classic summer day. You’re seated on a bench enjoying the weather and the view. To your left, you notice a large tree with a group of people congregating around it. And since you don’t have anything better to do, you join them to see what’s going on. You walk over and take in the scene.
By this tree, two worlds are about to collide.
World 1: A beautiful squirrel (an 8 out of 10 on the scale of beautiful squirrels!) frolicking around the tree.
World 2: A dog inching its way closer to the squirrel.
This group of bystanders thinks this dog is adorable until they realise something horrible is about to happen. They see the danger, but they do nothing.
When the dog is within striking distance of the innocent squirrel, he leaps out and snatches it up in his jaws. Everyone runs to the dog to free the squirrel, but it’s too late. The squirrel dies.
The moral: Failing to act makes you complicit in the outcome.
Don’t Just Observe
As a bystander in the parable, we predicted how events would unfold as the dog edged closer to the squirrel. But, did we do anything about it? No.
The success of a crucial conversation depends on connecting awareness of the circumstances and the decision to do something about it. We make our mistake when we observe what’s happening around us and think taking action is optional. It’s not. If we choose not to act, we’re an accomplice in the result.
That can be really scary. Think of some of the crucial conversations you engage in.
Some of us need to have crucial conversations with people we hope will be more respectful to us. Others need to work through eroding personal relationships. Some of us just need to talk to our coworker that needs to bathe regularly.
In those situations, we know what we hope to achieve. But we also know what we hope to avoid. Do we want to be complicit with those undesired outcomes? Of course not.
Adding a simple element to the conversation changes things. At the end of any crucial conversation, add accountability. Do something to change the outcome. Establish clear action items, deadlines, and follow-up. Document who will do what by when.
As we become aware of the circumstances around us, we need to do something. Let’s move to action rather than remain bystanders.