•Objectify the issues.The only ground rule is a ban on personal attacks. Apart from that, honesty rules. “This is a business problem. How can we make this project work better? What are the specific problems that are standing in the way?” Morieux says. “Require that everyone stick with the facts. What is the ideal deadline for each of them? Then, what is actually achievable?”
•Dive into the details.“Ask each side why a particular sticking point is important to them—for instance, why they need the other team to meet a given deadline,” says Morieux. A disagreement will usually be resolved much faster, and with less resentment, if everyone understands why it matters.
These three steps could well be enough to get everyone pulling in the same direction. “Once the situation is presented as a business challenge, and people have a clear understanding of the real issues, they’ll usually come up with solutions,” Morieux notes.
What if they don’t? Morieux proposes a novel approach, beyond the usual management carrots and sticks. “Someone always bears the cost of failing to solve a problem,” he says. “Your job as a manager may be to make sure everyone knows in advance that, if a solution isn’t found because people haven’t been able to cooperate, the employee who is standing in the way will have to accept the consequences.”
An example, from Six Simple Rules: A major automaker’s cars were notoriously hard to repair since, for instance, the wiring was arranged so that replacing the headlights meant removing the engine. The company sent the engineers who had created the problem to work in the service department for a while and hear firsthand how their design decisions affected irate technicians and unhappy customers.
Says Morieux,“If people know beforehand that—if they can’t work out the deadline problem—they may have to explain themselves face-to-face with angry people later on, they are motivated to reach a solution.” Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Talkback:Does your company encourage “getting along” even when being nice covers up important problems, or is conflict expected and encouraged? Leave a comment below.
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