BY RICK NELSON, TAG CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN OF LAUNCH CONSULTING
POWER OF 3 PERSPECTIVES
It was 2007 and my company, Direct Technology, was starting to get its footing. We were doing meaningful work for great clients. We had an amazing team that was engaged and maturing into our model of enterprise-level software engineering. It seemed like we might finally be sailing on smoother seas.
Then, one day, I walked into the office to the sound of a thunderstorm down the hall. Following the commotion, I was amazed to find our senior engineer and our senior account manager toe-to-toe in the conference room, each working hard to ensure the other couldn’t possibly hear what they had to say. Now, you know I’m a fan of a good conference-room debate. But nothing productive was happening here.
When I walked in and interrupted their heated discussion, they were a little embarrassed, but determined to have a third party hear their stories. Their stories, mind you—not the story.
In a nutshell, the account manager was furious because their ongoing project, which was supposed to wrap up that Friday, was going to be delayed for another three weeks. The engineer was furious because the account manager had added scope to the project without extending the timeline or adding budget.
What was the story?
During a group sync with the customer, a junior analyst had misinterpreted the client’s future “wish list” items as must-have items on this project build. The new tasks got put into the project plan, and the senior engineer had just seen the updates. Additionally, there had been some other scope changes that weren’t accounted for in price or timeline…yet. The account manager was working on a final signature to the additional purchase order but hadn’t updated the team.
It took less than half an hour for the three of us to get to a place of clear understanding. The timeline would reflect the appropriate time needed to implement previously approved changes. The wish list features were not part of this build. The customer was being billed for all work. The project would be delivered on time. Problem solved.
But it illustrated a vital business lesson. There are always three sides to the story:
Mine, Theirs, and the Unshared.
the POWER OF 3 PERSPECTIVES resolves conflicts
Of course, I’m not saying anyone was fully in the right or wrong here. We discussed the need for regular and clear communication across the whole team. We walked through the process and procedures in place for approving changes to project plans. And we definitely covered the policy for approvals to timelines and budgets. But what I hope each of us took away is that just because we believe it to be so, doesn’t always mean it is. We can avoid a lot of conflict if we:
1. Keep an eye out for what triggers our defenses.
We all have points of pride or soreness when it comes to our work, and if somebody steps on them or accuses us about them, it’s no surprise that our first impulse when challenged is to become defensive. In this case, the engineer felt blindsided by changes that would make his team deliver late work, and the account executive was indignant at the accusation because he felt he had the contract under control. In truth, both perspectives were flawed. If they hadn’t flared up to defend their work individually, they could have talked it through, found the Unshared Perspective, and resolved the issue together.
When someone touches a nerve of yours, take a moment to recognize and acknowledge that your knee-jerk reaction has a lot more to do with you than with them. That alone may help defuse a surprising amount of confrontation.
2. Give our colleagues the benefit of the doubt.
Goethe wrote: “Misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do. At least the latter two are certainly rarer.” (It’s the 1700s version of Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”)
We often forget that for the most part, people are much less invested in us than we ourselves are. When someone at work does something that upsets you, take a deep breath and mentally list at least three motivations they could have had for their action that don’t involving inconveniencing or harming you. Chances are, it wasn’t personal! Taking that open mindset into a conversation with them to work out the issue will always serve for better communication and resolution.
3. Turn Mine, Theirs, and the Unshared into Ours.
By actively turning down your gut reaction to a perceived conflict and seeking out the other party’s position, you’re already two-thirds of the way to truly understanding the situation. Now it’s just a matter of working together to unearth the Unshared. Once that happens, we’ve achieved the story, and we can start making decisions and moving forward collaboratively.
the POWER OF 3 PERSPECTIVES removes blind spots
The power of three perspectives is in empathy and cooperation. Instead of walking into uncertain situations with two blind spots, we have the opportunity to expand our field of vision and see more than we could by ourselves. All we have to do is take the time and energy to look. And that, as Paul Harvey said, is the rest of the story.
I’d love to hear from you: What seemingly important business issue in your life boiled down to a misunderstanding? What techniques do you use to turn Mine, Theirs, and the Unshared into the full story? Let’s talk in the comments. Let’s talk about it in the comments, or send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!