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

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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Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

One negative outweighs a world of positivesWhen It Really Counts, Be Positive
When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
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When we take time to express to others our appreciation for what they do for us, a magical thing happens.
A schematic representation of the Milgram ExperimentToxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Minimizing Authority
Toxic conflict in virtual teams is especially difficult to address, because we bring to it assumptions about causes and remedies that we've acquired in our experience in co-located teams. In this Part II of our exploration we examine how minimizing authority tends to convert ordinary creative conflict into a toxic form.
Gachi Fernandez and Sergio Cortazzo, professional tango coupleScope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion of control" — might provide explanations.
An informal meeting geometryMake Suggestions Privately
Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk.

See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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