Challenging Fighting Words

November 21, 2016

Challenging Fighting Words

Challenging Tod

In the last post, you had an ugly meeting. Tod from Finance tried to grab the whole contracting process and went ballistic when people objected.

You’ve had an idea you think would work. But the way things are going, it’s likely to be tough to get the idea heard.

What can you do to get your idea heard?

If you try to table it over Tod’s singlemindedness, it’s likely to descend into another shouting match. But if you gather support before the meeting, you’ll up your chances of swinging things your way. You spend the rest of the week talking to Sarah, Lilianna, Irwin, and others. They’re reluctant but, in the end, concede that it’s a better idea than Tod’s. You’re pleased.

The second meeting

YOU: I’d like to propose an approach to meet our needs and still be responsive to customers.
Tod: Wait a minute, we didn’t finish discussing Finance’s.
YOU: We did discuss it.
Tod: No way. All I got was roadblocks. Nobody tried to make it work.
YOU: Let me present my idea and then we can compare.
Tod: (voice rising) Are you trying to cut Finance out? I bet you want the whole thing yourself
YOU: We’d be the lead, yeah, but it wouldn’t—
Tod: Typical—Customer Relations trying to take over the world.
YOU: No, your idea was the power grab. At least mine allows input—
Tod: A power grab! You should talk—Customer Service running it! It’s the tail wagging the dog.
YOU: At least let me table the idea. (turn to rest of group) Don’t you think, guys?
(Silence, everyone is looking down)
Tod: No way. We talk about the Finance proposal first. Okay, when we left it last week, we were agreeing—

What went wrong?

You leave the meeting feeling bruised and more than a little betrayed. The meeting ended up exactly where you didn’t want it. Why didn’t the people you prepped speak up?  This is where the need for harmony comes in. It is subtle.

Although you pushed hard before the meeting to get people to agree, the only thing your proposal seemed to have going for it was that it wasn’t Tod’s. When Tod made it clear he was willing to get as ugly as he did last time, people backed away.

Makes perfect sense. Why risk drawing Tod’s abuse for something you feel only lukewarm about? They weigh the need for harmony (in this case, not being yelled at) with the cost of supporting you. You lost.

Frankly, the same might have happened even if your proposal had been the answer to a maiden’s prayer. The need for harmony in a group is so great that they would often rather tolerate being steamrollered than openly challenging. The need for harmony can trump the need to speak up.

I don’t want to leave the impression that people always shut down in the face of conflict. If you happen to have one or more people in your group who like to spar, your meetings are going to be rowdy. If your work culture is one where he who yells loudest and longest wins, the need for harmony might not be as strong. It’s not so much whether or not there is harmony, but whether its need trumps doing good work, presenting good ideas, or challenging issues.

In the next post, we’ll look at how you can leverage the group’s need for harmony to your advantage.

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