From Professional to Personal
For a while now I have watched an interesting communications pattern develop and become more prevalent: reframing communications from the professional to the personal.
First, there is The Donald (Trump). He’s such a perfect example of how the professional can be reframed as personal, and the consequences of that reframing, that he’s hard to ignore even if you want to.
He may, as many people have commented, simply be saying what other people are thinking, and there’s a place for that. However, when he calls others “idiots,” “disasters,” and “ugly” it moves the comments from the political to the personal, and he sounds like a big bully, calling others names and using schoolyard taunts. As a result, those who are still following the general rules about political communications are forced to move closer to his style or be seen as “weak” in comparison, just as they would be seen as weak on the schoolyard if somebody called them names and they did not respond.
Even if his statements on political issues are accurate, although sometimes too-blunt, his name-calling not only undermines their validity but gets tiresome as the shock value of the language wears off. It becomes the equivalent of a one-note song, but he’s still drawing such crowds that you can’t ignore him.
These personal attacks have become his communications strategy. By continuing the insults, he gets attention for his policy statements, and with his lack of political experience, that might not happen otherwise.
Second, this reframing isn’t limited to one-to-one communications. I’ve also seen it function in a group. Personal comments and complaints are buried, sometimes not so shallowly, in emails that go on for both pages and months. The issues raised are credible, but the detail and personal affronts undermine what should be a short message about a work issue. The group is stuck in this pattern, and the people this group serves are beginning to notice. The public should never be privy to private arguments.
Part of the dispute is based in the different expectations of work of the boomer and millennial generations. I have enjoyed working with both groups, but frankly, in one group I was surprised by the hostility and mutual disregard for the values of the groups that was palpable. Outside of meetings, which are mostly civil, people didn’t talk to each other if they were not in the same camp.
This group has reached the stage of polarization with new people being recruited, asked to take sides not only on specific issues but in general, the highest form of conflict among group members.
It feels as if this form of reframing is based on complete frustration with a group’s or individual’s inability to convince others of their point of view. When logic doesn’t work, they resort to name calling and hostility, which just generate more defensiveness against proposed changes and delay action on an agenda item. And there is no sign yet that reconciliation is possible.
The guideline for communications is “honesty and empathy” (Ken Cloke), or “truthful and kind.” Maybe in this age of “disruption” we might remember the kind and empathy parts of the message, especially if the statement shifts the agenda from professional to personal.
Search Related TMTs
“Each conversation requires different techniques and approaches, language styles and structure, for it to be effective.”
“As the possible offender . . . I want to present the other side.”
“something has to be tried and a few decisions have to be made or change will never happen; it will remain only anticipated.”
“Empathy among American college students has declined significantly over the past 30 years . . . research gives little reason to believe it will increase as they grow older.”
Truly Constructive Team Conflict
A friend and I were talking about how different people work and how their different ways of focusing on a problem can lead to new problems even as they all work toward the same goal. It was an interesting insight, and I wanted to use it as a way of understanding how conflict in groups or teams can be generated without people even realizing the source.
One of the elements of a successful team is agreement on a clearly defined goal. Team members all have to buy into that goal and not let their personal goals of recognition or advancement, or other competing organizational goals, get in the way of reaching the organization’s goal if the team is to be considered successful.
Unfortunately, even when everyone agrees on the goal, they may have very different ideas of how best to reach it. For the group we were talking about, the observation was made that one person’s focus was to be as detailed as possible, another’s to be as correct as possible, and the third’s to be as expansive as possible, to see the broadest implications of the goal.
These different approaches to reaching the goal are related to personality profiles measured in assessments like the MBTI, which can provide insight into working styles. How strongly someone emphasizes the details over the larger picture relates to the difference between looking at immediate information or long-term implications. The emphasis on accuracy can indicate a preference for structure and order, something more dependable than flexible estimates. The ability to see a broad goal can relate to how someone sees time, either by working in the present or near future or working toward the more distant future. Like everything else in teamwork, these three traits have upsides and downsides.
The upside to having all these traits, and others, represented on the team is that the final product will be as complete and correct as possible and address all the issues, stated or implied. And that is no small accomplishment.
The downside is that team members may insist on using their own approaches over another approach rather than using the best aspects of each, and the resulting conflict, then, is about process, not goal. The debate about process can completely derail the discussion especially if time is running out and a deadline must be respected.
What’s the cure? A good facilitator will be able to:
1. Recognize the different approaches and be prepared to handle them for the best possible outcome, similar to managing the differences between introverts and extroverts and using their input to advantage.
2. Balance each team member’s opportunity to speak so all perspectives are presented and given equal consideration.
3. Mediate the discussion so that areas of general agreement can be found and areas of disagreement can be discussed in enough detail for the team to reach agreement on each point. Often there will not be total agreement, but a consensus on the basics should allow the team to move forward.
With lots of time for debate these approaches will result in the best possible outcome. When time is short, some compromises that are not entirely acceptable will have to be made, but that’s the nature of compromise and progress. As long as the compromises don’t result in someone’s no longer supporting the goal or in the entire process breaking down, the outcome will still be acceptable to everyone, and the intense discussions and different perspectives will probably be a much better product or outcome than could have been produced by another team that agrees more easily.
This process is an example of truly constructive conflict, and the outcome an example of much more than an excellent product; it is an example of institutional learning through challenging experience and of passing those lessons on as part of the culture. The outcome will have been well worth the effort and the debates will have been seen as valuable exchanges and learning experiences. In addition to their individual perspectives, team members will take the experience of tough debate, persuasive argument, and reasonable compromise to another team where it can help another group be equally successful, maybe even as team leader.