Last week Indira Naidoo Harris was a guest host for the CBC Radio One program The Current, and spoke with Lanny Davis, former special legal counsel to Bill Clinton. “Conversation” may be the wrong word for the exchange; “interview” also seems to miss the mark. The topic of the exchange was Hillary Clinton’s appropriateness for the position of United States of America Secretary of State under president-elect Barack Obama.
Some “conversations” are difficult; many more difficult than they have to be. This exchange was clearly both, as pointed out by the National Post in print and online. Mr. Davis gave not an inch, and immediately began the “interview” by calling out the “innuendo” of the Harris’s introduction. He then demanded “facts” to support the allegations. Apparently, he would have settled for just one, but none were forthcoming. It was a strange moment when Harris tried to move on by empathizing as to “difficulties” that Davis must be having with the “issues.” It sounds like a suggested phrase from self-help book on “Active Listening.” Davis was not to be appeased: “give me the facts.”
It is good to hear an exchange where one side gives the other no benefit of the doubt, because, from my perspective, a number of these conversations don’t happen because of the promised contentiousness. This type of conflict, however, is the reality of pushing against resistance in the form of someone who will attack everything you say. This can be especially true if the exchange has an audience. It is not about how you deliver your message; it comes down to what you are saying. (But imagine if they had been e-mailing each other!)
These conversations are good practice for reaching out of our in-groups. I would suggest that often we rely on another’s trust (or disengagement from the situation) to get away with not supporting our position sufficiently, if at all. Pushback is good practice, and demonstrates engagement. I would hope that Ms. Harris learned from the exchange.
I don’t suggest that the answer is to prep for every interaction like you are speaking to the Fifth Estate, or The Current for that matter. Some situations, such as a job interview, can add a degree of healthy “defense” that drives us to spend some time fact checking in order to have our support at the ready. It doesn’t have to be contentious, but conflict can call out some ideas that may be unchallenged but can’t be well supported.
I was recently working with a group of purchasing professionals around effective communication of change messages. Understandably, the focus was on influencing and persuading others to buy into the value that can be created by supply chain-focused initiatives.
We were discussing the example presented by one of the members of the group, who was attempting to centralize purchasing, moving away from the status quo decentralized (ad hoc?) purchasing. Playing a combination of devil’s advocate and helpful outsider, I probed for some objective evidence. The idea that centralized purchasing was “good” and decentralized purchasing was “bad” seemed to be the crux of the argument. How far would that fly outside this group?
No small part of presenting information is providing appropriate support, and this is where the difficulty arose. What may seem “common sense” to a group of purchasing professionals will likely need a bit more behind it to garner buy-in from those in, for example, a sales function. The conundrum that many of us face in supporting to external groups is this: “I can’t understand why you don’t understand this.” We are tempted to try “dumbing it down,” but it may also simply require being ready to answer the question, “Why on Earth would I want to do that?” This question will not likely come from those already on board.
In this article on corporate social responsibility (CSR; potentially requiring a softer sell than procurement rigour), Prof. John Peloza describes the dynamic whereby the camp of those who champion the CSR cause are often talking to each other about their importance, rather than to the finance side of the business where decisions are made. Part of the language of finance is numerical support in the form of return on investment, return on equity and return on assets. He claims that no one in the CSR camp bothers to learn this language in order to engage the finance group in discussion. (And, why bother? We’d rather talk amongst ourselves anyway…) The same may apply to those working in supply chain.
Back to the original example: in light of the current financial situation and a collective cry for more accountability, it may be getting easier to make the case for centralized versus decentralized purchasing. Nonetheless, that case will have to be made to some people who prefer having flexibility in the purchases they make. Having worked in sales, I completely understand the preference for decentralized… and how a sales person might not understand why you don’t see it their way.
Effectively putting the case forward to these “out groups” requires attaching support to what could be “common sense” arguments. It demands going beyond, “It’s just better, OK? Trust me.” Oh, and don’t forget: try to not come across as condescending.
Quick tip: If you find someone from an “out group” who has come to “get it,” ask them to tell you what brought them around. Chances are this support will be appropriate to others in that group.
This originally appeared in the October 2008 e-Newsletter for the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (www.supplychaincanada.org).
Learning by doing is widely embraced as a driver of skill development. When I taught English in Japan, my objective was often to give people the tools, words, expressions, etc., that they needed to complete a “production” exercise (e.g having learned and practiced adverbs of frequency, students would create a weekly routine for, say, Paris Hilton when she is in jail. “Well she always checks the cutlery before she eats, she often asks for another blanket” and so on). Entertainment is never a small part of education.
Research suggests that when you are forced to “teach” something, your retention of that material increases dramatically over simply having to “do” something. (I would argue that my depth of comprehension of English jumped during my days of teaching it.) This is where the “reflective journal” fits into many skill development regimes and curricula. My MBA students have to keep a journal to share thoughts with me, or more specifically, show me where they are able to apply the learnings. The good ones could be used to teach others.
For example, in the course, we discuss acceptable alternatives (BATNAs, positions, et al) and the importance of thinking things through. My interactions earlier this month at Home Depot provide a good example of how this fits in the real world:
I bought a chandelier that had to be specially ordered. (”Special order” meaning, I think, items that had less than hotcake-like velocity in selling and therefor were stored elsewhere. Makes sense for the big box business model.) When I got the chandelier home, one of the glass fixtures was broken. Calling suggested that the only alternative was to take it back to the store to figure out what to do. I realized that my overriding objective was to make this trip to Home Depot my last for this particular transaction. (Note: This would be trip number 3, and still no chandelier.)
As a win-win guy, I ran through some possible scenarios. Maybe I return it; maybe they give me the glass bowl from the floor model (of which there was one); maybe they have some ideas that had not occurred to me. I was open to the discussion, but I also decided that I was not prepared to go back to the store again. Had I been passionately attached to the chandelier, my tune might have been quite different.
Not surprisingly, Plan A from HD Customer Service was “we’ll just order you another one; call in a week or 10 days and it should be here for you to pick up.” Sorry, three trips is my limit. A return should have involved a “restocking fee” (such are the rules for special order items), but this was quickly conceded, with a sigh that I suspect was intended to elicit guilt.
From a customer service perspective, I could not have been happier. I got what I wanted, which was to walk out of the store not needing to go back. From a negotiation perspective, there was a lost opportunity for customer services staff to keep the sale. Would it be possible to take an unbroken fixture off the floor model and send me on my way? I did not need to suggest it, so I didn’t. That may have been closer to a win-win, but in this situation, I am OK with win-lose as long as I am the former.
That may be lofty for the expectations of customer service staff at a big box store, but value has to come from anywhere you can get it, even if you are Home Depot. In this case, clarity of objectives on both sides, coupled with a solution-minded approach may have enabled value creation for everyone involved. That might not be too much to ask for/expect/instill in customer-facing staff in any business.
Post script: I ended up going to a local lighting store, who were able to arrange installation through an informal channel. This was one issue I hadn’t thought through. I can only imagine my experience in “learning by doing” a chandelier installation.
There is a risk in oversimplifying issues to the point of a binary explanation (e.g. this or that). The temptation to oversimplify is obvious when presenting the issue to a wider audience who likely have yet to pay attention to the issue: descriptions become easier (e.g. it’s like this OR it’s like that), and encouraging agreement and disagreement is more likely (you are with us OR you are against us). The inherent danger is that these oversimplifications take deeper root.
Such binary identification with words is described as religious attachment to the resistance to “private” involvement in Canada’s health care system by Robert Ouellette of the CMA. At some point, an argument was being made that a 100% public system (conceivably the “Canadian” system) was superior to a “free market/services to the wealthy” system employed (conceivably the “American” system). “So it really is pretty simple,” goes the explanation to those whose decision/votes one is trying to woo, “You either support a Canadian system, or we risk deteriorating into, well, you know what.”
This type of positioning may be necessary to garner support for a cause, but when the binary support can cloud the issue. In Alberta, Ralph Klein famously put forward the “Third Way” after clearly describing the other two alternatives, one being unacceptable, the other impossible. But the same forces of binary division happen when you talk about the an “Alberta solution” vs. an “Ontario solution.” The required changes in the health care system are not about Alberta vs. Ontario, Canada vs. the U.S. or private vs. public; it is about finding a manageable way to meet the growing strains on the system.
Words are necessary to describe these things, but there has to be a tolerance for ambiguity of language along the way. To commit to a strategy, you have to describe the path, but “this or that” language has to be avoided for fear that it does take root. In winning people over, it is tempting to simplify language, but some things will never be simple. Health care is one of those things; so is government and economic policy. Is anyone prepared to get specific on the “change” that either McCain or Obama will bring? Likely not until January.
- February 2013
- January 2013
- November 2011
- October 2011
- February 2011
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- November 2008
- October 2008
- September 2008
- August 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- May 2008
- April 2008
- March 2008
- Recent Posts