Like you, I’ve been listening to all the political messages over the past few days and weeks. I’ve also been thinking about what we can learn from their tone (on all sides) that might transfer to workplaces. Now that the election is over, some of the winners are gloating and ridiculing the losers, while some losers batten down the hatches and make excuses for the outcome. None of these are productive responses, especially since we then expect both sides to suddenly forget all the awful things that were said and work together toward a better future. Unfortunately, we see very similar behavior in the workplace, especially when conflict happens and the resolution favors one side over the other.
Let’s take this situation: In the Company there’s a budget battle going on in which people are fighting for positions in their departments. Marketing says that their work is critical to ensuring continuing growth and profitability, that they have smart, creative staff who are really committed to the Company. They also say that Research and Development (R&D) has been totally mismanaged with expensive exploratory trips and software purchases, and that their staff are stupid in mis-reading the customers and wasting time and money on nonsense.
Meanwhile, the R&D folks are touting the great new products that have been developed by their brilliant employees, which the idiots in Marketing can’t seem to understand because they’re too wrapped up in show and totally lacking in substance. They’re saying that lagging sales are all Marketing’s fault; Marketing is saying it’s all R&D’s fault for wasting time and money and developing unpopular products.
The Executive Team and CEO finally decide on the budget, cutting R&D rather drastically and putting more money into Marketing. Of course, Marketing is thrilled. They won! R&D is hurt, angry, and feeling misunderstood, betrayed and marginalized. They lost. Then the CEO directs the two departments to work together closely to ensure success. After months of mudslinging, is that even possible? Probably not. And who really loses? The Company does.
Is there another way? I’d suggest there is. The Company needs to create a culture based on the “Five A’s”:
- Assume positive intent on the part of all parties: everyone wants the Company to succeed. Everyone wins when the Company is successful. Everyone loses when it is not.
- Argue vigorously for issues, perspectives, and points of view while being very gentle with people. No name calling. No attacks. Everyone loses when people are attacked and labels are thrown around (stupid, incompetent, useless,…) Everyone wins when issues are analyzed and vetted for the best possible outcome for the Company and decisions are made on facts, not personalities.
- Allow everyone to save face. People in the workplace have to be able to continue to work together effectively on the other side of the conflict. If the relationship is torn so badly that one side (or both) believes they have been betrayed, maligned, insulted, or otherwise seriously hurt, working together for the good of the Company becomes very difficult, if not impossible. People who have lost face look for ways to get revenge – and when they find them (and they do), everyone loses.
- Acknowledge the past, but move on to the future. Things will move forward if both winners and losers respect one another’s perspectives and past conflicts, but commit to coming together (that means both sides give some) for the best future for the Company.
- Advance everyone’s interests by building personal relationships on an ongoing basis so that future conflicts (which are guaranteed to occur) can be worked through and best outcomes achieved.
There will always be conflicts in the workplace, and in our personal and political lives. There is never enough time, money or staff. There are different beliefs and values. It’s not about eliminating these conflicts. It’s about learning to build relationships and focusing on debating issues rather than maligning people. The better we learn to do this in all aspects of our lives, the more likely we can create a greater good for all.
What are your thoughts about how to create a good outcome for all after heated differences? Please share your ideas! ~Daphne Schneider