Yesterday I was brought in to mediate an issue that had gotten completely out of hand, and both parties had irreconcilable differences in their minds. This situation took weeks of battling before they finally got to a point where neither could move forward. For the purposes of this example we will call them Ted and Bill.
When I walked into this meeting you could feel the tension in the room. You could see on Bill and Ted’s face, they had come prepared to do battle, and both were ready for the fight. Like two ultimate fighters right before the bell rings.
The meeting started out with each side presenting their problems, and quickly turned into a heated argument, and finger pointing session. Bill was determined to show where Ted was at fault, and Ted was bent on proving that all the issues we caused by Bill. Each side was so determined to prove they were right; neither took the time to listen to the concerns of the other, a simple action that would have avoided all of the conflict in the first place.
At one point during the argument Bill said to Ted “you made me feel like you didn’t care whether or not the project got done”.
Immediately, Ted responded, “that isn’t what I said!” Each one was so determined on proving they were right they had lost sight of the project goal.
At this point I jumped in and said “wait a minute! Something very important just happened here. Bill explained how you made him feel, and you dismissed his feelings and stayed focus on what you said.”
I went on to explain to them that neither seemed to be concerned with the other’s position or problems and that there is no communication happening if neither one is listening.
Things calmed down and we were able to move forward from there, because each person was able to verbally express their concerns while the other truly listened. As the meeting progressed I pointed out that both Ted and Bill had the same goal in mind and there was no reason for them not to work together and achieve the best possible results. Once each of them let go of who was right and who was wrong, and focused on the main goal, they realized they had common ground to build on.
I am sure that as the months roll forward they will start to build a relationship and learn to trust each other, all while producing a quality product.
The lesson to learn from this example is that you must listen first and answer second. It is really more than that though. You not only have to listen, but you need to understand. Put yourself in their position and try to understand their perspective. Once you truly understand their point, focus on the goal and see where you have common ground. Once you both understand what you have in common communication becomes easier.
Don’t worry about who is wrong or right, it doesn’t really matter. You have been wrong before and you will be wrong again. Next time you are wrong do you want somebody pointing it out? What really matters is the end product and how to get there. One of my mentors used to say “yesterday is gone and we may all be dead tomorrow, so let’s just focus on today”. While funny, it is very true. When dealing with a problem, you can’t allow yourself to get all caught up in how you got to this point. You need to be focused on the path forward. You should personally take time to reflect on what got you there, so you don’t make the same mistakes again, but that will not help you get out of the current situation. You need to use forward thinking and rally the team to come up with a way to get out of the current condition and back on schedule.
It all comes down to communication and to effectively communicate, you must listen. There is an old saying that ‘you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so shut your mouth and start listening’. When talking with others, don’t spend the time they are talking thinking of how you will respond. Open your mind and listen to what they are saying. Then give a true response based on the information you have gathered while listening. This will have tremendous positive results for your business and your quality of life.
Special management note:
It has been my experience over the years that there are three critical parts a manager has to deal with:
1. The task (project) itself. The time-line and schedule, as well as all commitments
2. The customer’s satisfaction
3. The profitability of the project or task
My experience has been that most people will focus on one of the three critical parts. The problem is, to be successful; you have to have a balance amongst the three. If you focus only on getting the project done on time, you will usually have a happy customer, but in many cases will lose money. If you only focus on the profitability, you will make money, but chances are the schedule will get blown and you will not earn a repeat customer.
The truly great managers are the ones that can balance all three critical parts on every project. The managers that keep their focus on the end result, all the while listening and helping the customer are the great ones. Keep your focus on all three parts, that way in the end you will meet the deadlines and make money and keep your customers happy.