Category Archives: Teamwork

Solving Disputes with Specifics!

Have you ever had a conflict with a colleague that escalated, and seemed to be impossible to bring to resolution?

Consider this exchange:

Leslie: You’re acting so unprofessional, I just can’t believe it.

Devon: How can you say that? You’re being paranoid again.

Leslie: Me, paranoid? That’s the most irrational thing I’ve ever heard!  If you don’t apologize, I’m not continuing with this conversation.

Devon: You are so over-reacting!

What’s wrong with this exchange and why is it going nowhere to resolve the issues between these two colleagues? The answer is actually pretty simple: when one or both parties in a dispute use large, accusatory, general terms (“unprofessional,” “paranoid,” “irrational,” “over-reacting,”) the result is predictable.  It will end in an escalation of the situation as people become more defensive and emotional, and so less able to address whatever the real issues are.

What to do? If you find yourself in this kind of a dialogue (even if only one person is using such language), take the following steps:

  1. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Count to 10 (or 15 or 20).
  2. If you’re too emotional, you likely need to leave the situation till later – so do that. Explain, “I’m having a really hard time with our conversation right now. Can we get back to it in an hour?”
  3. If you stay in the conversation, name what’s happening, and ask that the conversation go a different way: “We’re both talking in generalities. Can we talk specifics?”
  4. Get a piece of paper and write down the specifics listed by you and the other person. For example, Leslie might say: “You don’t update me on projects, and then I look dumb when someone asks me a question.” (Write down: frequency of project updates.)
  5. Devon might say: “When you’re late to meetings, we have to back up and start over and it’s very frustrating.” (Write down: Leslie coming late to meetings.)
  6. Then, address each issue specifically, and agree on actions/behaviors to fix the problem. For example: Leslie commits to arriving at meetings on time or before they start, and agrees that if late, the meeting will not start over. Devon agrees to weekly Monday morning stand-up update meetings to give Leslie updates.  Always acknowledge the other person’s efforts to reach agreement, and point out where the agreements have been reached. For example, “I’m so glad we got to the bottom of our disagreement. I promise to get to meetings on time – but in case I mess up, I won’t expect you to start the meeting over.”                                                                         Remember: Stay away from generalities and accusations – and be specific with what you want and need.  Do you have other tips for getting resolution to workplace disagreements? Let us know! ~Daphne Schneider
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Involve Others in Making Decisions…or Not!

Congratulations! You’re a modern, progressive manager. You respect your employees, and listen to their ideas. You treat them fairly, compensate them well, believe in them and appreciate their contributions. It follows, then, that you should involve them when you make important decisions, right?

Well, sort of. Let me share a story. Years ago I was in graduate school, writing my thesis. I was absolutely convinced of the worth of participative decision-making. That is, involving those affected by decisions in making the decisions. Thus, if employees were to be affected by the yearly objectives that were being set, they needed to be involved in setting them. If citizens were to be affected by the placement of the new LightRail route, they needed to be involved in deciding where that route should go. You get the idea. I was convinced that, by involving those affected by a decision in making that decision, you got a better, fairer and more equitable decision.

So, off I went to do research. Here’s what I discovered: to coin a phrase first made famous by George Gershwin, it ain’t necessarily so. The research shows that the extent to which it’s a good idea to involve folks in a decision depends on many things. If you’re facing a significant decision that will affect those who work for you, use the following questions to decisde whether and how to involve them in making the decision.
1. Do you have to have some technical knowledge to understand the issue? For instance, deciding whether to have a “casual Friday” in an office probably does not require technical knowledge – it’s more about opinions and understanding your customers (if you see customers). On the other hand, deciding the best laptop to buy for each of your 100 employees requires at least some technical knowledge, though you also need to know how each employee will use the computer to make the best choice.
2.If technical knowledge is required, do those you’re considering involving have it, or is it something they can learn quickly? If not, it’s probably unwise to expect them to be worthwhile contributors to the process. Ensure that those you involve in decision-making, whether in a group or by requesting individual input, actually have the technical skills and knowledge in the subject to provide meaningful input. Public input processes are notorious examples of uninformed folks being asked their opinions on complex issues about which they have opinions by not real knowledge. I’ve been to way too many such meetings – and they tend to be really frustrating for both decision-makers and meeting attendees.
3.Do those you’re considering involving have a significant emotional interest in the outcome of the decision? For instance, if you are considering outsourcing some work, those whose jobs might be changed or even eliminated have a significant interest in the outcome of the decision. It is unlikely that they would be able to objectively assess the pros and cons, taking themselves out of the equation for the greater good of the company or organization. As one management book author put it, it is unreasonable to expect people to enthusiastically participate in making plans for their own demise.
4.Will those you’re considering involving be working with others in this process? If so, do they have the skills to participate in a collaborative decision-making process? If this is a large or complex decision, it is best to begin the process by developing the team that will be involved. This entails setting expectations, establishing ground rules, defining parameters for the decision, defining the group’s authority (advisory? decision-making? other?) and actually providing some training in the collaborative process.

So, although I’m still a great proponent of involving those affected by decisions in making those decisions, our very complex world sometimes makes that a poor idea. In principle it’s great – but make sure involvement is really meaningful and that those who are involved have the knowledge and skills to help you reach a better decision than you would have reached without their input.

Have you been involved in a collaborative decision-making process? How did it work? Was it successful? We’d love to hear from you! ~Daphne Schneider

Creating Ownership

Ownership is an interesting concept.  We have some understanding of what it means when we’re talking about stuff – we own the house (well, except the part the bank owns…), the car (ditto), the cat (really? does anyone ever really own a cat???), the shirt – ah, that we really do own.  We bought it, paid cash for it, wear it and wash it.  We went through a process…and now we own it.

But what does ownership mean when we’re talking about ideas or directions or outcomes, particularly for teams and organizations?  I’ve recently facilitated several teams in developing plans for the future.  Initially I met with the leaders who talked with me about what the issues were and about what they wanted to achieve with their teams.  From one perspective, the outcomes were almost forgone conclusions: when I asked these people what they wanted to accomplish, they were pretty specific.  And, as it turned out, they pretty much predicted the outcomes of my work with their teams.

Between these initial conversations and the end results, I worked with the teams and their leaders for many hours.  We talked about what was important to them individually, about what was important to their teams and organizatioins.  We talked about the present and the future, and about creating the future they were dreaming of for their organizations.  We took time to hear every member of the team, and to listen deeply to what each person brought to the table.

So why go to all the trouble to bring people together for hours or days just to get to the end you knew they would likely reach anyway?  One thing that decades of study has repeatedly shown: even though it might appear more efficient in the short run, in the long run you have to have time and individual involvement to build commitment.  So, it’s about talking and processing to build ownership.

Now, I’m someone who is quite capable of being bottom-line oriented.  Just get to the point and be done with it.  That said, I also know that much of the time that simply does not work.  You cannot order a sense of ownership and commitment to an outcome.  You can get compliance that way: that is, I’ll work toward your goal while you’re watching, but if you turn your back, you don’t know what you’ll get. You can only get ownership and commitment the long, slow way.  If you want and need that for a path-forward, you need to have participation in developing that path from those whose commitment you want.

I can just hear some of you saying – but isn’t that manipulative?   The answer is that it is no more manipulative to involve people in working toward a goal you have in mind than it is to learn a foreign language in order to communicate with someone who speaks that language.  If you want people to be part of what you’re building, you need to involve them in the plans and speak to them in a language you both understand.  Having said that, you also need to be prepared that they might not go along with everything you had in mind, and it might not look, in the end, exactly as you had imagined it would.

By taking the time to build ownership, you will have a relationship that has been strengthened, a bond that has been developed and a commitment to an outcome from those who were involved – which are things that you simply cannot have without that time and participation.

Have you had experience building a sense of ownership?  Tell us about it! ~Daphne Schneider

Preparing for Conflicts is Key!

I recently read a great piece of advice from one of my colleagues, Carol Bowser (http://www.managingconflict.com/.)   She’s a conflict expert, and suggested that we all prepare for conflict situations before they happen.  That’s a good idea since (1) we are highly likely to find ourselves in such a situation sometime and (2) when you’re in the midst of a conflict it’s really hard to come up with the right thing to say if you’re not prepared.  In other words, behaving effectively in a conflict situation is actually a skill that you can learn.

So, what does being prepared mean?  Taking Carol’s suggestions and expanding on them, here are some questions to ask when you find yourself in that conflict:

  1. What’s the issue (and do we both agree that’s the issue)?
  2. Why do I hink it’s an issue?  Why does the other person think it is?
  3. What are some possible solutions?
  4. What am I willing/able to do to make it better?
  5. What can we do together to make it better?

To apply these to a workplace example, say you’re the Marketing Manager in a company.  You and Susan, the Finance Specialist are having an argument about a budget line item for graphic design in the Marketing budget.  You want to spend most of it to purchase new software you need.  Susan says it can only be used for hiring a graphic designer for a project.

  1.  What’s the issue? You  and Susan agree that the issue is allowable use of the budgeted graphic design funds.
  2. Why do you think it’s an issue?  You’re thinking long-term about the department’s needs which would best be met by buying this software now.  Why do you think Susan think it’s an issue?  She seems to be tied to the rules, and these dollars are in a section of the budget which may only be used for consulting services.
  3. What are some possible solutions?  You and Susan brainstorm, and come up with the following:
    1. Expand the use of funds in this line of the budget.
    2. Transfer the funds to another part of the budget, likely leaving little available for consulting services.
  4.  What are you willing to do to make it better?  In talking with Susan it becomes apparent to you that expanding the allowable use of funds in this line item would be a longer term project, and you need the money for the software now.  You might want to propose this change in graphic design funds use as budget development begins for next year, but for now you decide that you’re willing to forgo consulting services monies and move the funds to another line in the budget from which you can purchase the software you need.
  5. What are you willing to do together with Susan? You decide to meet with the Finance Manager together to get the OK to move these funds.

As you can see, there’s a real system here – and it works.  Till they really become part of how you approach conflict, I’d recommend putting the steps on a note card or even a sticky note and always having them handy.  I used to have a sticky note with these steps on the bookshelf above my desk.  That way I’d have them handy whenever something came up.  I’d also recommend practicing (with your child, with your friend, with anyone where you find yourself in a disagreement – even talking to yourself as you drive…).  If you practice on “small” conflicts ir even invented conflicts, when real or bigger ones come up you’ll be prepared.

If you want to know more about this way of approaching conflict, check out the Harvard Negotiations Project    (http://www.pon.harvard.edu/category/research_projects/harvard-negotiation-project/ )  and the work they’ve done over many years, starting with the famous Getting to Yes.

Has this or another systems for working through conflicts been successful for you?  We’d love to know!  ~ Daphne Schneider

Is there life after conflict?

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

The culture of behaving badly

Have you ever heard about people behaving badly and, when outsiders hear about it, they wonder, “How in the world could that have happened? Why didn’t somebody stop them?  Why didn’t somebody do something?”  In spite of having conducted more than 300 workplace investigations and having been in the workplace as an employee for many years before that, I have to admit that I’m still sometimes taken aback by such behavior.  That’s why I’ve thought a lot about this issue.

 Nationally syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts had some of the same thoughts when he saw the footage of the four Marines urinating on Taliban bodies. And, he has an explanation: he says war is insanity, and so people behave in war (and think it’s normal) in ways they’d never behave otherwise.  I think he’s right – but I think there’s more to it than that.

 We know that every workplace has its own culture.  People who work in that culture for a long time – or a short very intense time –sometimes behave in ways there that they would never behave elsewhere.  They sometimes seem to forget the norms of the ‘outside world’ and adapt to and adopt the norms of their workplaces.  I expect this is really a survival mechanism, and I’ve seen it time after time:

  • The office where everyone shares very private aspects of their lives and the newcomer, who might ordinarily keep those to herself, joins in in order to become accepted – telling things she doesn’t even tell her best friends.
  • The crew where new hires are regularly bullied and mistreated by those who have been around a while until they become senior and bully the newcomers – even though they’re nice people who wouldn’t hurt a fly in other environments.
  • The work group where vendors regularly bring a fifth of Scotch to share with the group on a Friday afternoon before they all get in their cars to drive home – even though the same people always have a designated driver when they go out.
  • The Wall Street employee who wouldn’t dream of cheating at cards with friends but practices insider trading because that’s just how everyone does things at his firm.

 It’s very easy to lose sight of the forest when you find yourself sitting under a tree – and to forget that what looks normal from under that tree may be totally warped from a quarter mile away.  It’s important to maintain touchpoints outside the workplace with which you compare what’s going on inside, and to look critically at those behaviors that seem normal in that setting but would be unacceptable elsewhere. 

 Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the workplace norms were very different from your own values or acceptable behaviors outside?  How did you handle it?  Let us know!  ~Daphne Schneider

 

 

 

 

Using the Right Bait

How do you get someone else to change their behavior?  That’s an ongoing challenge for many of us, whether we’re first line supervisors or colleagues, top level managers or parents.  You simply can’t make someone else change unless they have some incentive to change. 

Unfortunately what many of us do is identify our motivation for the other person to change, and assume that’s their motivation.  For example:

  • I ask you not to yell at me because it hurts my feelings (and I assume you care about that).
  • I tell you to clean your workspace because I hate starting my shift in your messy space (and I assume you’ll do it just because???)
  • You’re told to fill out the medical history form because that’s the physical therapist’s policy before they’ll treat you, but you’re there for a sore leg (and not interested in providing information about other parts of your body).
  • You tell your subordinate to stop taking extended breaks (and assume, because you’re the supervisor, he will comply). 

All of these sound like reasonable requests and might work if the other person is amenable to doing something a different way.  However, if the other person is resistant, they are unlikely to work because the incentive is not there. 

So, what do you do when you’re faced with someone who won’t do what you want them to?  We are often tempted to threaten…do it this way or else.  However, most threats are ineffective – and are ignored.  For example,

  • If I already don’t like you I may not care if you threaten never to talk to me again if I yell. 
  • If I know our supervisor doesn’t care whether or not my workspace is messy, your threat to tell her on me (kind of like third grade) will have no effect. 
  • The likelihood they’ll refuse to treat your sore leg if you don’t  fill out their form is…zero.
  • And even if a threat might work, it will only work if you’re watching.  Without my buy-in, the threat to fire me if I’m late returning from break will only be effective in getting me back on time if I know you’re watching every single time I go on break.

The only really effective way to get someone else to change their behavior when they are resistant is to find a reason they will want to change.  I recently saw a brilliant version of this truism at a wonderful restaurant in Colorado.  On a card tent on each table was the following small note:

MOBILE PHONE USERS…

Your call is important.

For your privacy,

Please use the lobby area.

That’s absolutely brilliant.  We’ve all been annoyed when the person at the next table talks loudly on their cell phone.  And we’ve all seen the signs that say “No cell phone use here” or even, “Please turn off your phone while in this area.”  And we’ve all seen people ignore these signs because they’re about the establishment and the other customers, not about their need to use the phone.  However, this restaurant notice was clearly designed to address the needs and interests of the person using the phone – and there was not a single person in the restaurant on the phone.  It works.  One of my favorite sayings is, “When you go fishing, what kind of bait do you use?  What you like or what the fish likes?”  Clearly, that applies to our interactions with people as well as fish.  Find what will work as an incentive for the other person, and they will change. 

Have you given someone a reason they care about to do something they might not otherwise do?  We’d love to hear it!  ~Daphne Schneider