The Right Answer

The project managers in our building sit near each other when we’re not in meetings all day long.

The other day my neighbor had applied for an open position in the company and done her interview. During the interview she was asked what one thing she would change in how the project management office is working. She shared her answer with me.

It was awesome and articulate. It spoke to a real problem. As she was talking about what changes could occur I easily found myself becoming a champion of her solution. I thought it was great.

She was disappointed in the response. I asked why.

She explained that she felt her entire answer was inaccurate. No analysis was done to demonstrate that her answer was the correct one, so while she may have articulated her idea well, she couldn’t prove to herself that the idea had value beyond her own experience.

I tried to demonstrate that it did.

She didn’t accept my perspective. She was firm that the right answer could only be a researched answer. So I decided to use a bit of a research technique to help.

The technique is the 80:20 rule. It’s known as the Pareto Principle and paraphrased states that 80% of your value comes from 20% of the effort. Now, this is a principle, not a hard fast rule. Sometimes the ratio is 73:27, or 85:15, but the idea is still the same and usually remains close to 80:20 regardless of the industry or environment.

I asked my neighbor to consider the Pareto Principle means that she didn’t need to be 100% accurate about whether her response was truly top of the list. It just needed to be in the top 20%.

The conversation didn’t end with my neighbor changing her mind, doing a 180 on her perspective, and walk away with a new positive attitude. She’s not that type of person. Some people take time to change how they see things. My neighbor is one of them. I was grateful she listened in the moment. She’s the sort of person who also listens after the moments and considers other’s perspectives.

While I don’t think my answer was life changing, I do think it was truthful and uplifting. Since that conversation we’ve shared more thing that indicate the way we talked that day help to build a stronger bond of trust between us.

Trust is a good thing to have.

The right answer isn’t singular. It’s plural. Being in the range of right is better than not doing anything. Had I tried to search for the exact right words I wouldn’t have strengthened a friendship.

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