Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 19;   May 8, 2002:

If You Weren't So Wrong So Often, I'd Agree with You

by

Diversity of perspectives is one of the great strengths of teams. Ideas contend and through contending they improve each other. In this process, criticism of ideas sometimes gets personal. How can we critique ideas safely, without hurting each other, while keeping focused on the work?
Pain in the heart

Photo by Magnus Lindvall

Walking out of the building after another hard day, Ellen felt ill in her heart. These meetings were so painful — it seemed that everyone just wanted to shoot at each other. The team did produce good work, but the pain of getting there was sometimes too much.

Today it was Will shooting at Betty. Her booth design was flawed, and Will did offer some real improvements, but only after he said, "This layout makes me want to walk right by." Betty sat stone-faced, and Will was clueless. It wasn't a guy thing — Ellen had seen it too many times in too many different gender combinations. Maybe it was this team, or this company. Anyway, she resolved that this would be her last trade show planning effort. Ever.

Why do we hurt each other when we work together? And when we do try to address hurt feelings, why do we hear "I didn't mean to offend you" so often?

Most of us grew up with command-and-control models of work. We learned that task is far more important than relationship. But in the team environment, both task and relationship count. Accomplishing the task at the expense of the relationships is a failure.

Since a task orientation prevents us from noticing harm to relationships, we tend to reward people who contribute to task achievements, and we tend to ignore those who contribute to relationship achievements.

Here are some tips for making your team a success in both task and relationship.

Both task and relationship
count. Accomplishing the
task at the expense of
the relationships
is a failure.
Focus on ideas, not people
Focus your comments on the idea, rather than its proposer. Combine the idea with another idea to get the benefits of both.
Assume the best of people
Few of us hurt others intentionally, except perhaps in anger. Most of the time, when we think that an insult is intentional, it isn't.
When you hurt, feel — then deal
When you hurt, let yourself feel it. If you have the strength, and the time is right, let people know what's happening for you. Unless they know that you're in pain, they probably won't change what they're doing.
Recognize contributions as contributions
We're usually fooling ourselves when we attribute a specific contribution to a single person, because most contributions have many authors. We can't always know for sure who contributed what.
Recognize relationship building and preservation
To succeed in both task and relationship a team must work at building and preserving relationships. Recognize contributions that keep personal relationships healthy.

When you introduce these ideas to others, some might feel criticized, and some might feel hurt. Perhaps, reading this, you yourself feel some regrets. Be easy on them and be easy on yourself. Focus not on the past, but on making "right now" as good as you can make it. Go to top Top  Next issue: I Think, Therefore I Laugh  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

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See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

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In many organizations, technical debt has resisted efforts to control it. We've made important technical advances, but full control might require applying some results of the behavioral economics community, including a concept they call mental accounting. Available here and by RSS on June 1.
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In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste of time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management. Available here and by RSS on June 8.

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