“I have become more aware of (1) how true emotions can feel during crucial moments, and (2) how false they really are.”
—Kerry Patterson, “Crucial Conversations”
In a book titled “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” author Kerry Patterson delves into the anatomy of meaningful conversations and productive disagreements, and offers tips on how to filter fact from fiction to reveal common goals when conflict arises in the workplace.
As a both a business owner and a manager, I seek to build collaborative teams – and with teams inevitably comes disagreement. By applying what I learned in this book to how I manage conflict in the workplace, I hope to create an environment that encourages discussion and never shuts down any member of my company. I often find myself utilizing the conflict resolution strategies covered in “Crucial Conversations” when teams get stuck. What exactly do I mean by “stuck”? Here’s an example we frequently encounter at MyITpros.
Our clients commonly join us because a former IT services provider has left them in a painful situation. Every member of our company wants to provide the best services possible, but exactly how to do so is sometimes disagreed upon. Both the sales and services teams prioritize client experience, but their differing perspectives can sometimes conflict. Sales might strive to onboard the new client as quickly as possible to show we are attentive, responsive and we care, while services may want to ensure we provide a top-quality experience and the client is never short-changed for the sake of saving time.
See the predicament?
In “Crucial Conversations,” I learned that most disagreements can be solved in three steps. First, filter the facts from the fiction. Second, identify a shared goal. Lastly, acknowledge that disagreements are healthy and productive, and reach for a win-win solution.
1. Filter the facts from the fiction.
As discussed by Patterson, heated conversations bring out intense emotions. At these times, we often lose sight of what is true, what is an exaggeration and what is downright false. In other words, we let our passion do the talking. This frequently takes the form of one particular type of sentence: “You always do X,” “You never do Y” and similar absolutes. You’ve heard them in your work relationships and your personal life, but they rarely represent the truth.
When you hear a phrase like this as a manager, immediately encourage participants in the discussion to take a step back. Is it true that either party always or never does whatever is being debated? Probably not. Objectively extract the facts of the situation, pull out a whiteboard (literally) and write them down. More often than not, this will allow everyone to see the circumstances may not be as dire or extreme as they think.
2. Identify the common goal.
Every single member of your organization wants what is best for the company and for your customers. If you find teams or departments disagreeing in ways that are no longer productive, have each party identify and write down their exact goal. You’ll often find that each party’s aim is similar, but gets lost in translation to the other side. With this in mind, you can boil down the argument to one common goal, such as improving the customer experience, decreasing time to resolution, increasing brand awareness, etc. Once you have identified a shared desired outcome, it will be much easier to guide the conversation away from a heated debate over differences and toward an exploration of how to achieve that outcome.
3. Reach for a win-win solution.
A common misconception about disagreements is that there have to be a winner and a loser; there doesn’t. Nobody loses when a conflict resolution that will benefit all parties is identified. To reach a win-win solution, first acknowledge that conflict is OK. In fact, it’s more than OK – it’s the byproduct of creative minds coming together to form new and innovative strategies. The more opinions and perspectives you can add to the pool, the better. Once a tone of acceptance and a willingness to listen to others’ ideas has been established, break out the whiteboard again. Bounce ideas and solutions off each other, and write each one down. The more you collect, the easier it will be to find a crossroad or a middle ground and make a compromise that everyone can stand behind.
Let’s circle back to our original example and unpack the conflict by taking a moment to pull out the facts. Sales wants to show the client that the company will be responsive and timely, while services wants to provide high-quality service, even if that means taking a little bit longer. Once these facts have been established, it’s easy to see the common goal: Both teams want to give new clients the best possible experience. Now you can get to identifying a solution. Perhaps there is work that can be done immediately to show that the customer’s needs are heard and attended to, allowing the work that takes longer to be carried out without sending the wrong message.
You’ve just witnessed a crucial conversation. By putting an emphasis on filtering fact from fiction, identifying the shared goal and reaching for a win-win solution, your teams will certainly have meaningful, creative and productive discussions in the workplace.