What I learned from bartending
As a junior at the University of Delaware, and in need of some extra cash, I decided to tend bar at a popular watering hole just outside of campus. Lots of fun. What I learned quickly was this: after a couple of rounds of drinks, people talked mostly about their struggles with relationships. According to science, the brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25 so in hindsight that should be expected that young adults in their early twenties would have that challenge.
The danger in misdiagnosis
Yesterday, I sat in on a performance evaluation between a CEO and a senior manager – both in their forties. About 5 minutes into the discussion, I felt like I was observing the same thing I mentioned above: two people struggling over how to relate to one another. As it escalated further, I had to call a time-out. “Guys – you are both making great points, but there is clearly too much heat in this discussion. Can we meet next week for lunch to figure this out”?
It wasn’t difficult to see: The CEO expected to make his points with zero push back, but was using his authority to achieve this. The senior manager, now feeling like he was being spoken down to, became inappropriately defensive and made the matter worse. What appeared on the surface to be a slam dunk meeting to exchange simple ideas actually exposed a deeper problem – both these guys lacked the awareness to relate well to each other. Call it social skills, call it emotional intelligence – neither one had the ability to see it quickly and course correct to produce a favorable outcome.
The challenge most businesses face
This is a common occurrence in business relationships today: they were both trying to rationalize a problem that was fundamentally emotional: they misdiagnosed the problem.
Companies today put a much higher premium on discussions that center on the logistics of a problem, and minimize the social element. They elevate logic over the human element that allows people to effectively [or not] relate and persuade one another. That misdiagnosis frustrates a lot of smart people. To make matters worse, unless the culture evolves, they will put discussions about workplace relationships on the same level as watching Dr. Phil.
But we can help.
The best way forward in a disagreement
It wasn’t about leadership, strategies, or tactics in this performance conversation – it was about being heard and understood relative to what we being stated. And sadly, neither one saw it and both felt equally disrespected.
How we move that conversation forward
So what can you do when key players are struggling to get along?
Ask a simple question. Are you both feeling valued in this conversation? If not, step back and solve it.
Fix the emotional “tear”. Before the logical pieces of the conversation can move forward, ask if both parties feel respected and heard. Pin point where this was violated, take responsibility, and change it.
Don’t get manipulated. Once you have re-established dialogue, go back into the topic with a humble tone and discuss the best possible outcome for the conversation, without letting anyone off the hook for their responsibilities.
Whether its executives in the C-Suite, senior leaders with their direct reports, or members on a high functioning team, at some time their is going to be a conflict that will be misdiagnosed: someone will try fix a relational breakdown with logic. That’s solving the right problem with the wrong tool.
Together, we can overcome a fundamental oversight in businesses today: failing to recognize that relationships in business need the same priority as strategies and tactics in achieving their goals.