Blog Post 11-4-11

Why Can’t You See it My Way?

“If we change the format of the report,” Ralph said, rubbing his forehead, “we’ll have to ask everyone to change their data input system—contracting, finance, even the research people. It’ll be a mess!”

“Yes, but after we get through all the mess it will be a better, more efficient system,” Sandy replied. “Just think about it…no more duplication of efforts between branches, and no more phone calls to try and understand why the numbers don’t match. Everyone will love it!”

“Sure they will. After they get done being upset with us for all the work we’ve piled on them,” Ralph mumbled, walking away.

“Just think about it!” Sandy shouted after him. And then in frustration, “Why did you ask me to research this if you weren’t willing to change anything?”

Does this sound familiar? When colleagues lack the ability to approach conflict by trying to understand each other’s perspective, team efforts quickly derail. What they need is negotiation skills; and the prerequisites are the ability to actively listen, to ask good questions, and to engage in a practice we call skillful discussion. Only then can they begin to look for mutually satisfying options that meet the needs of all parties.

None of this is easy. Interpersonal issues will affect even interactions between colleagues who have the best of intentions, and we can’t deal with those issues by saying they’re not important. They’re so important that if we don’t deal with them first, we probably won’t get anywhere in resolving the subject of disagreement. That’s why we always say:
Deal with the ‘people issues’ first, and then with the problem.

Here are some questions you can ask to assess the strength of your team’s ability to resolve conflict constructively:

• Does everyone have a solid knowledge of their own strengths, preferences and behavioral styles? Do they understand the behavioral styles of their teammates?
• Do they know the importance of being able to flex these behavioral styles when necessary, in order to meet the needs of another style? Do they have the skills to do this?
Do teammates listen actively to each other and show genuine curiosity about other points of view?
• Does the workplace environment allow for people to take time to explore an important issue?
• Do teammates know how to probe for the interests underlying each other’s positions, and to look for creative solutions to satisfy those interests?
• Most importantly, how is a lack of skill, ability or awareness in any of these areas impacting your efforts to carry out the organization’s mission?