Monday, October 6, 2008

SO Many Differences

I am speaking on October 29th on the subject of “Working with Difficult People” and spent some time this weekend working on that presentation. If you have been to a Pathfinder class, you know that I teach that what makes people appear difficult are the differences between them, which I categorize loosely as Rules, Perceptions, Beliefs, Preferences, and Styles. It always surprises me (although it shouldn’t) at how little we believe these impact us. We acknowledge that there are differences, but feel most of them are trivial and really don’t interfere with our ability to communicate. I will say here for the first time that this is probably the single largest mistake we can make!

These differences may usually be small, but they invade our communication in such numbers that they quickly combine to overwhelm almost any serious discussion except for the most logical (for instance, discussions about math or science) and can cause us to lose sight of the facts. Here is what I mean – imagine that you and a sibling are sitting in a class with me. I ask you both to write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a series of questions like this one:
1 – Is a sofa a piece of furniture?
2 – Is a chair a piece of furniture?
3 – Is a wooden stool a piece of furniture?
4 – Is a wooden cube a piece of furniture?
5– Is a wooden crate piece of furniture?
6 – Is a cardboard crate piece of furniture?
7 – Is a piece of cardboard a piece of furniture?

Around questions 4, 5, & 6 the concept of a piece of furniture is raised. You and a sibling may agree on this. Maybe not. Would you and all your peers at work match up? You and someone from another country?

Remember, this is a question about the concept of furniture – something we form very early; something very familiar and concrete. Are we all on the same page? How about with something a more abstract – would you expect that you and your peers agree on what comprises professional behavior? Freedom? Art? Business results? As the subject gets more abstract, the more radical the differences between people becomes. Even on fairly concrete things, we vary widely.

We also have differences in the way we think things will play out over time. If you have a general rule that "things usually work out for the best", your boss has a general rule that "what can go wrong, will", and your peer has the idea that "nothing we do is really important", do you think it might affect the way you approach projects and your impressions of each other's work?

These differences exist within nearly every concept that we hold. What I think is assertive leadership, you may feel is bullying. With so many differences it is difficult for me to see how we EVER get past them. The answer is, we usually don’t and many of us just “put up” with what goes on, believing that we are right and others wrong. The thing is, keeping score that way is pointless and counterproductive.

If you want to understand “Working with Difficult People”, recognize that they are only difficult until you understand them. I mean understand them in a way that they KNOW you understand them, which generally means you can explain their position TO THEM and have them say “Yeah….you got it!” If you do that, you have asked questions, listened carefully, let them talk, considered what they had to say, and repeated it back to them. You asked them to correct you if you had it wrong. You made their point of view important – not right or wrong, but important enough to work to understand.

If someone did that for you, how difficult would you be?

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

No comments: