How Talking Tames Tensions

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Summary:

When your department runs into snag in working with other departments, how do you resolve the situation? Getting together to talk can help not only to rectify the current problem, but also to minimize future problems.

When your department runs into snag in working with other departments, how do you resolve the situation? Getting together to talk can help not only to rectify the current problem, but also to minimize future problems.

Consider, for example, the four departments whose customer support responsibilities required them to interact, but whose relationships with each other were tense and conflict-driven. Each department saw the other three as trouble-makers and helpless, hopeless hindrances. To reverse these perceptions and help the departments build harmonious relationships, the division head asked me to facilitate a meeting with the four departments. I had them divide into small groups, with each group comprising people from all four departments.

As they formed groups, I heard many introducing themselves to each other. Clearly, some members of the four departments had never even met a situation I've found among many groups that are quick to find fault with each other.

I asked them to talk with their group-mates about a series of issues that revolved around the challenges their customers posed for them. After they discussed each issue in their small group, we gathered as a full group so they could report their insights and recommendations.

Once they started conversing, they realized how little they had understood about each others' responsibilities and activities. They quickly discovered that certain problems they had blamed each other for had valid explanations, such as ambiguous standards and priorities each department had that the others were unaware of. Some of their problems, they discovered, could be readily resolved with a tweak or two. Even some of their larger problems had solutions that were far from insurmountable.

Their discussions of their shared needs and frustrations led them to a clear conclusion: In terms of their customer support responsibilities, they had a lot in common, and could accomplish more by collaborating than by fuming and finger-pointing.

To conclude our session, I asked them to discuss what they'd like to do next to improve their relationships. Topping the list they came up with was that they wanted to continue their conversations through regular gatherings. Other ideas included spending time in each other's areas as observers, creating a repository for capturing shared concerns, and discussing rather than stifling frustrations that involved their interactions with each other.

This session was brief, yet most participants left with a more positive perception and a deeper understanding of the other three departments. Certainly, these initial discussions were just a starting point in smoothing the bumps in their relationship. Yet, they had accomplished a lot simply by taking the time to talk.

Might you and the groups you interact with benefit by doing the same?

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