Blog & Insight

It's like talking to a brick wall

You have to be careful what you say in front me - especially if you're describing a situation you're wanting more insight on, or wondering what to do next about.

I have a belief, that the words we use to describe challenges we're facing also contain the solution.

You might be thinking you're stuck when you use the words "it's like talking to a brick wall", but what happens if those very words contain the solution too?

Since writing the following post to help you talk to the wall I've also spoken about this subject in my Landscaping Your Life with Alison Smith podcast

  • #32 How to stop feeling like you're talking to a brick wall (Apple/Spotify)
  • #60 How to influence others then you feel like you're talking to a brick wall with new insight and a poem on the subject (see bottom of this post for the poem shared in that episode (Apple/Spotify))

ans as you'll see from that poem this episode 26 about building bridges also relates too

  • #26 How to build a bridge with another person (Apple/Spotify)

'Talking to the brick wall' is also one of seven workshops I've developed to support team performance where workshops are a mix of metaphor and more conventional business models tools and techniques

I'll repeat the premise of this post:

If you're describing someone as being like a brick wall - those very words will also contain the solution.

To make the most from this exploration think of a situation you feel like you're talking to a brick wall about, and identify a score out of 10 on how satisfied you feel about the situation, and another score out of 10 on how you feel about the current solutions that are available.

There's two different ways we can use the words to get a different perspective on the situation.

1. What would you do if you did really have a brick a wall in front of you.

In reality if we were really just trying to talk to a brick wall we'd at best laugh, and rush away quickly wondering why we even thought that was a good idea. Alcohol might be involved too !?!

I'd suggest therefore that what we're really saying is there's a brick wall between us and the other person ie if the brick wall wasn't there we'd be able to talk to them?

Which means the words we're using are saying it's the brick wall we need to remove.

As with any metaphorical exploration we need to put the real situation to the back of our mind as we explore the metaphor - we'll come back to real life strategies once we've finished with the metaphor.

If there was real wall in-front of us how would we get around it:

  • Walk around it
  • Climb it
  • Jump it
  • Hop over it
  • Find a door in the wall and open that and walk through it
  • Use a ladder to help us climb it
  • Fly over it
  • Glide over it
  • Hammer holes in it
  • Tunnel under it
  • Get the builders or architects to redesign it (this came from a recent workshop and I loved the suggestion)
  • Grow ivy up it to help us climb it
  • Be catapulted over it
  • We could knock it down
  • or drive a car through it! (not the most safe choice it has to be said)

We could spend more time getting more ideas, and the more people the merrier to help because as with any creative session we get ideas from hearing other people's ideas, and sometimes you have to wade through the obvious ideas first before the more creative ideas emerge.

The aim is to identify all the different ways of getting around a wall. We then need to take all these ideas and see what they mean in reality. Which would start to look like the following list:

  • Ignoring the silence and keeping talking (walking around it)
  • Trying to understand the reason for the silence - ie get a different perspective (flying over it)

You may think flying over the walls would mean a totally different solution, and that's perfectly fine and expected.

The premise of all of these tools is to allow the part of you that does have access to solutions to provide them to you.

Which means each of our brains will go off at different tangents, and all suggestions are good suggestions. We can always decide which ones make most sense later.

You may also have already tried some of these ideas - this is just a different technique to more conventional ways of getting a longer list of potential options.

  • Trying different strategies to motivate the other person (find a door through it)
  • Asking for help from others to win the person over (put a ladder up it)
  • Learning new skills to help convince the other person (jump over it)
  • Not trying to do it all at once and take one step at a time (grow ivy up it)
  • Addressing all the reservations the other person has (knock it down)
  • Trying different communication methods (hammer holes in it)

We could keep going, it would certainly be easier if there was a few of us doing this together.

Do you get a sense that by doing this you could discover the one strategy that would make a difference and remove the wall between you and the other person?

After all by using the words "It's like I'm talking to a brick wall" I could surmise you've sort of given up. Easy to do in the circumstances I'm sure, but along with it comes the "I've tried everything", "they're just resistant" and a spiral down into a belief it's impossible to change. By using metaphor we ignore the reasons for thinking it's impossible and remind ourselves, via the metaphor, of why it might just be possible.

As you reflect on the above ideas and any suggestions you came up with as your read mine what's your score out of 10 on how satisfied you now feel about the situation, and your score on how you feel about the current solutions that are available?

Now for something completely different - option 2.

2. Change the image you've got of the wall that's in-front of you

The premise of this option is that it's your own perception of the situation that is getting in the way of finding a solution - the brick wall is of your making not the other person.

It's similar to all those occasions when you'd been struggling with a problem for hours, days or even weeks and a friend or colleague comes along and tells you what they'd do, and you say "Why didn't I think of that?"

You didn't think of that solution because of a variety of factors:

  • Your values and what you think is important 
  • Your beliefs
  • Assumptions
  • Judgements
  • Past history
  • Relationship with the other person
  • State of mind and body
  • Personal preferences
  • and so on

It's as if in this case each of these factors are the bricks in the wall we've constructed between us and the other person.

Although, you'll be glad to know that to find a solution you don't need to logically understand what these bricks mean in reality nor how they got there, just be able to visualise the brick wall!

To make the most from this exploration please do think of another situation you feel like you're talking to a brick wall about, and identify a score out of 10 on how satisfied you feel about the situation, and another score out of 10 on how you feel about the current solutions that are available.

Let me ask you - that brick wall that you said you were talking to - could you describe it?

  • How high is it
  • How wide and long is it
  • What is is made of
  • How far in-front of you is it - or perhaps it's off the side of you, above or even below you
  • What colour is it - or is in black and white
  • Is it in or out of focus
  • What about the contrast between colours
  • Is is a picture or are you in it as if it's there in front of you
  • Is there anything to notice about the top of the wall, or the bottom, or the middle

Stick with me - it may feel weird and be a little unconventional. Yet it's a very effective tool for unlocking situations.

Also remember it's okay to only know the answer to 1, 0 or all of the questions I'm asking - no right or wrong just a different way of exploring the situation.

  • Are there any sounds associated with the wall (perhaps it has a sound track, or the wind makes a noise as it blows around it) are they loud, soft, from a specific instrument or direction?
  • Or perhaps it's more about feelings - what about the temperature of the wall?
  • What's the weather like by your wall - if it has one

Is there anything else that you think would be helpful when you describe the wall between you and the other person?

  • Are you seeing the wall through your eyes or can you see yourself as if in a picture?  

The theory suggests that if the current internal representation you have for the situation means you're stuck, then making changes to it might help shift the situation. (We're doing this all the time unconsciously when we change our minds about anything, we're just using the process very consciously to help us.)

The idea now is to make changes to your image of the wall and notice what happens

  • The size, shape, height etc
  • The location or distance from you

One change that often makes a difference is distance and size - ie zooming your image of the wall out far into the distance so it's very small. You could even bring it back as something totally different that's more helpful - a bench for you both to sit on perhaps? 

If anything negatively impacts how you're feeling just change the representation back to where you started.

The key is trying out the suggested changes to your own representation - it won't work if you logically read the list, and then decide "this won't work" .

Try it and notice what you notice.

It won't work for everyone. For example there are some clients I would never use this tool with, and apologies if you might just be one of those clients, and thank you for persisting and reading the post.

Continue to review the first list of questions to understand what changes you might want to try.

  • The colour or no colour
  • The level of focus and contrast
  • The sounds - on or off, up or down
  • Temperature up or down or off
  • Different weather or time of day (trust me this can make a huge difference) or year
  • Add or change the sound track 
  • Move where you're located with respect to the wall

Keep going until you have an internal representation that looks, sounds, and/or feels different, with new solutions starting to emerge. 

If that last exploration wasn't absurd enough, and it's certainly easier to do when being guided in person rather than here in the post, absurdity and laughter can also help shift something if the solution is being a little resistant to emerge.

Let's therefore go a little more playful with the changes that we make:

  • What happens if the bricks are made of marshmallow, or
  • We fix a hot air balloon to it and it floats the wall away :-), or
  • Blow it up with air, and let it float away all by itself
  • Make it a rainbow wall, or
  • Dissolve the bricks, or
  • Make the ground very muddy under the wall so it falls down it self, or
  • Give it bouncy castle like walls
  • And so on.

The more absurd the better, anything to jolt the current way of thinking from one track onto to another.

Once you've had a play with all these ideas go back to those scores you had for the situation.

As you reflect on the above and any changes you made to the visual representation you had of the wall what's your score out of 10 on how satisfied you now feel about the situation, and your score on how you feel about the current solutions that are available?

I can't say what scores you've got after reading this post I just know, having used this process with hundreds of clients for over 20 years, that many of you will have noticed a positive difference, and will as a result have identified some actions to progress the situation that were previously eluding you. (It is however always easier to help you do this in person.)

I hope this has given you food for thought on how the language you use, and the way you think about a situation can contribute to your ability to find solutions. In addition to the chapters in my book Can't see the wood for the trees other posts that use a similar process include: Getting a seat at the table; it's an uphill struggle; and treading on thin ice.

Do get in touch if you'd like to find out more about using your language to uncover solutions.

Talking to a brick wall poem


© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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