It is very common to leap quickly to strong but faulty conclusions. One example is attributing relational problems to personality issues or lack of skills. Actually, situational issues are far more often the primary cause of difficult behavior.
Situational complexity and stress are inherent in organizational life. These factors easily provoke differing viewpoints and experiences among the people involved. Relational problems arise most frequently when these differences have not been adequately heard and understood. Pushing for a solution prior to such understanding runs a substantial risk of negative reactions and push back.
Resisting the rush to diagnoses and solutions and taking the time for “dialogue and discovery” usually leads to much more success. By engaging in dialogue, a process of hearing and understanding different viewpoints, new perceptions and solutions emerge surprisingly often.
While there are no recipes or scripts, the following three steps provide guidance.
1. Reflect—recognize and manage leaps to conclusions in yourself
- Set aside certainty that there is ONE correct viewpoint (no matter how certain you are). Prepare to state your view with the aim of being understood, not “getting” agreement.
2. Dialogue—first, set aside finding solutions in order to build mutual understanding
- State your intention to first understand each other even if there is disagreement. Be vigorous in assuring accurate learning about different viewpoints by avoiding debates and repeatedly summarizing and checking for understanding.
3. Decide—seek agreement to meet again (expect multiple conversations for resolution)
- Take small steps over multiple conversations to enable the best chances for a mutual solution. It also helps to have clarity about how a decision will be made if and when that becomes necessary (e.g. by consensus vs. by a person with the authority to decide).
The first step can be the most difficult. When the stakes feel high, at times we all have unproductive habits of reaction. These take practice to change and, sometimes, coaching.
The productive habit we need to continuously strengthen is counter-intuitive: we need to slow down the rush to solutions and take one small step at a time through dialogue and discovery. This enables the chances for the best success for both task and relational goals.
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