Going Down The Rabbit Hole

Let me give you example:

You are having a conversation about the importance of early literacy to student success and someone asks if you think that banking and budgeting should be taught in school.

It’s not an unrealistic question. Maybe banking should be taught in school, but the question isn’t relevant at this time. That’s not the focus of the conversation or the issue that is being discussed. MAYBE banking and budgeting is worth a conversation at some point — maybe. But, now is not the time to explore it.

Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole

Don’t be drawn away from the topic in front of you. Dealing with the issue at hand in a thoughtful, constructive and inclusive manner does not mean that you are obligated to entertain every idea thrown in your direction. Others in the conversation will actually thank you for ensuring that you help the conversation stay relevant and focused on a successful resolution.

Stay on topic — Stay on topic — Stay on topic

Keep the conversation focused

I see Rabbit Holes quite frequently in the professional world. You’re in a meeting or other structured event and you have a topic. The conversation is going well, lots of good ideas floating around, and then BAM — in comes an unrelated question from left field. It can feel like a curve ball catching you off guard. You’re wondering how best to respond — answer it or ignore it. Actually, you need to deal with it.

Remind yourself, and perhaps others, that you have a topic that needs your attention. If the curve ball is a subject that actually needs further exploration it is perfectly acceptable to ‘park it’ and find a later time and location. But, if you go down the Rabbit Hole now you will be abandoning any momentum you have in your conversation. More importantly you have now provided permission for others to bring up additional Rabbit Holes — anything goes. The ability to refocus the conversation is now at risk because you’ve allowed distraction to be entertained. Your journey to a productive conclusion has just lengthened considerably.

Conversations are a Social Agreement

As a matter of social convention, conversations (especially those with multiple participants) typically have an unwritten understanding. You are all obligated to stick to the topic at hand. Others in the conversation will become frustrated and feel disrespected if there isn’t a consistent focus being applied. If you have a leadership presence in the conversation, you also have a responsibility to make sure that it stays on track and isn’t hijacked by another agenda.

Honour the conversation and it’s participants by staying on topic and avoiding the Rabbit Hole of Distraction.

Dave Eberwein (2020)

Here are my thoughts on the things you need to properly avoid Rabbit Holes:

Conversation Captains Need to Steer Them to Success
  • You need situational awareness to notice that you’re being offered a Rabbit Hole. It may be either intentional or unintentional, but the result is the same. Rabbit Holes take you away from your focal point. Look for that distraction. Is the question or statement really relevant or is it meant to distract and disrupt?
  • You need self-awareness to plan for HOW you will respond to the Rabbit Hole invitation. Don’t get flustered but instead stay calm, focused and determined.
  • Redirect the conversation. This is both an art and a skill. Be firm yet gentle with those who have brought you the Rabbit Hole — find your words and your tact to bring things back-in-line.
  • Differing opinions are not necessarily a Rabbit Hole. However, when someone creates a diversion for the sake of deflecting the conversation, that is when the Rabbit Hole shows itself.

“Thanks for asking that, Tom. We’re going to stay focused on this question, but can revisit your idea at another time.”

“What an interesting idea to explore, Joan. To make sure that we stay focused, let’s park that for now.”

Some Examples of Redirecting the Conversation

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