Facilitation Technique: “Painting the Ends of the Spectrum”

While I don’t often write about leadership, management, and consulting “techniques”, there’s one that I wanted to share as I’ve found it useful when facilitating a diverse group of folks. I call it “painting the ends of the spectrum”, although I’m sure there other varieties and names for this approach.

Here are a couple of examples of “painting the ends of the spectrum”:

  • Trying to hone in on a direction related to strategy – In discussions with a client, framing the discussion by saying something to the effect of, “On the one spectrum, we can focus on simply reviewing the documents to make sure all parties understand. This will require a fairly short period of time. On the other end of the spectrum, we can work towards developing a common solution. Such an approach will require more time and strategy planning on our end.” This can be followed up by either the question, “Where on the spectrum are thinking we should be aiming for?” Alternatively depending on the bias you feel acceptable for the situation, you may indicate, “I think the former end of the spectrum is preferable. That said, what do you think?”
  • Attempting to gauge direction on customer preference – The technique can often be used in primary market research or sales situations. Here you may ask, “On the one end of the spectrum you can have a solution that covers X, Y, and Z, and will meet your end needs (for a premium fee) of being able to sleep at night. On the other end of the spectrum, you can have a narrower solution that has smaller out-of-pocket fees and may require greater coordination and integration on your part. Which direction do you prefer and why?”

Painting the ends of the spectrum works in many situations, particularly if complexity is somewhat linear (i.e., moving from simple to complex). In some cases, you may find it useful to paint other colors in the middle of the spectrum too. I tend to find that this latter situation works more in written or visual presentations.

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