Focus Triangle: Overcoming Interruptions

The modern workplace is demanding, constantly bombarded by meetings, emails, texts, questions, problems — it can begin to feel like you are drowning in an immeasurably vast sea of shit.

Once you tick something off the never ending to-do list, five more tasks appear in its place. One moment you’re ending a phone call then the next second, your smartphone bleats relentlessly throughout your brief minute of silence, requiring you to jump straight back on the phone.

But there’s hope!

One of the most powerful and enduring lessons we’ve learnt in leadership is that these thousands of little interruptions aren’t necessarily keeping you from the work, these are the work. Seeing these “interruptions” as “opportunities” we can dramatically increase our ability to effectively lead, clarify strategy, build trust, and forge meaningful relationships in each moment.

So, how do we make each moment count?

So what do we need to do? There are three components to each conversation. Combined, they form what we will call it the “Focus Triangle.” When you use all three in conjunction with one another, they can produce a powerfully productive loop.

Apply these three steps in each interaction: Listen, Frame, Progress.

1. Listen Intently

Effective listening is the foundation of exemplary leadership however very few people get it right. It takes practice and patience to master the art of connecting with others, detect nuances, figuring out hidden or distant motives, and determining what kind of support people need to do their best.

Giving the other person the space to be heard does not mean that you’re being complacent or docile. Dig deep. Be intently curious. They came to you for help after all so ask for the evidence and take the time you need to fully grasp the issue. When you feel confident that you’ve wrapped your head around what’s going on, take a moment to briefly summarise to ensure you have it right by asking for confirmation of your understanding.

2. Frame your understanding of the issue

Once you've extracted an understanding of the issue, you’re ready to frame it in a way that will provide clarity. When you frame things well and with clarity, people will be able to pass the information on in a way that is clear and compelling.

This requires some practice and tweaking depending the depth of issue and your audience.

Firstly, determine whether everyone’s understanding to see if anyone needs greater clarity, confidence, or commitment and adjust your approach accordingly.

Clarity may require you to roll up your sleeves and dig into some data with them, or you might have to provide some context to explain the competitive landscape.

Confidence& Commitment require you to connect your audiences purpose and passion to the project. Show them how their strengths make them uniquely suited to accelerate the project to a successful outcome. Whatever the situation, frame the issue honestly and speak from your heart. Share your passion for the project and outcomes, letting your people know whytheir contribution matters as well.

3. Advance the Agenda

In the final part of the triangle you must show a bias for action. People came to you to make progress.

Help them do it!

You listened. You framed their understanding. Now you know what is needed to push the problem or issue forward. Now you need to help them make a decision, if there’s a path they should take then guide them down this path but let them make that call. This reinforces commitment and connection to the project.

You may need to take the reins and make a call or connect the people involved with a crucial third party — do it. Make a phone call, send an email, write a memo. Get things moving in whichever way is necessary. This is your chance to provide people with the tools and/or insights necessary to help people meet and exceed their goals.

As a leader, advancing the agenda is deeply fulfilling because it allows you to contribute meaningfully to the people in your organisation.

As you work your way through the triangle, some people will be tentative or fearful of making the wrong call. Dissolve their apprehension. Gently remind them of the risk in not acting and reassure them that nobody makes the perfect call every time.

This triangle provides a framework for you to build relationships and make and support decisions.

The more you do it, the better and more efficient you will become.