People are people. Sometimes they’re conflict averse and just not comfortable saying certain things to their peers. Sometimes they don’t like them and are actively trying to undermine them. Sometimes they’re in a completely functional relationship, but have been too darn busy to talk.
So when this happens, how do you — as a manager — respond? What should you do?
“Hey Dave, I wanted to say that Sarah’s folks really messed up on the Acme call this morning. They weren’t ready with the proposal and were completely not in line with my sales team.”
Do you pile on?
“Again? Sarah’s folks are out of control, I’m going to go blast her.” (The “Young Dave” response.)
Do you investigate?
“You know my friend Marcy always said there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and what actually happened. So let me give Sarah a call and look into this.”
Do you defend?
“Well, that doesn’t sound like Sarah. Her team’s usually buttoned up.”
In the first case, you’re going off half-cocked without sufficient information which, while emotionally satisfying in the short-term, often leads to a mess followed by several apologies in the mid-term. In the second case, you’re being manipulated into investigating something when perhaps you were planning a better use of your time that day. In the third case, you’re going off half-cocked again, but in the other direction.
In all three cases, you’re getting sucked into politics. Politics? Is it really politics? Well, how do you think Sarah is going to feel in when you show up asking a dozen questions about the Acme call? She’ll certainly consider it politics and, among other things, there’s about a 98% chance that she will say:
“Gosh, I wish Bill came and talked to me first.”
At which point, if you’re like me, you’re going to say:
“No, no, no. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, this isn’t political. It’s not like Bill was avoiding you on this one. He just happened to be talking to me about another issue and he brought this up at the end. It’s not political, no.”
But can you be sure? Maybe it just did pop into Bill’s mind during the last minute of the other call. Or maybe it didn’t. Maybe the reason Bill called you was a masterfully political pretext. Can you know the difference?
So what do you say to Bill when he drops the comment about Sarah’s team into your call? The eleven words that reduce politics in any organization:
“What did Sarah say when you talked to her about this?”
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(Props to Martin Cooke for teaching me the eleven words.)