I recently had a great experience working with a small company that does research & development for the government. They were having trouble keeping track of government property – a big no, no. There were several laboratories each composed of various engineers and technicians. The person responsible for keeping track was managing inventory.
The inventory person had an idea of how to keep track and he was implementing it. His focus was a database, but he needed everyone to tell him when government property was bought, damaged or moved. The labs were focused on creation and customer service. They were proud of having a strong reputation of always being on time and under budget. They proudly told stories of stopping at a store on the way to showcase something to ensure that they had what they needed.
The various labs felt the other labs made exceptions and they all felt that the inventory person was being unreasonable when his requirements threatened to slow down their creativity and customer response time. The inventory person felt that the labs had unreasonable expectations for immediate responses, particularly when this company’s turn around time was about six times faster than their competitors.
I spent several weeks talking to everyone involved. We discussed why this project was important. Where they saw holes or problems with what was being proposed, and sharing ideas for options. To a person they all agreed about the need. They were able to provide situations that could prove difficult and they had many good suggestions on how to make changes that would work.
I’d take back to the inventory person the labs ideas and concerns. He actually implemented several on the spot. I’d take the inventory concerns and issues to the labs and explore how they might implement them.
Finally we held a meeting with all of the key labs players and the inventory person so he could lay out what he thought would work best. The meeting was scheduled for two hours and everyone was very concerned that it might lead to a shouting match. The meeting only took an hour. The inventory person said it went much easier than he had expected. The labs people felt they had all their answers and understood what would happen and how they would need to shift their work.
In the end everyone was on board, everyone was happy (mostly), everyone was clear on the new requirements and understood how it would impact their work flow. All of this happened because someone listened and concerns were heard and shared. No one got everything they wanted, but everyone understood what the others needed and being good people, would work to make things happen.
The key to all of this was to recognize that all the players were good people. All of them wanted the best for the company. All of them wanted to be included, heard and understood. That is far differently from wanting their own way. Each area did have things they wanted. What was important was finding out why they wanted what they did. Once that was clear everyone was able to access the importance of their desire against the company need, and being rational folks make rational accommodations.
Right relationship is about respecting others, recognizing shared concerns as well as individual concerns and doing so openly, without emotional coloring or baggage. Sometimes it takes an outsider (me, in this case) to create that opening, but I can assure you that opening does exist, you just have to want to find it!
We can help YOU listen!