August 25, 2007

Consultant between two arguing managers

Consultant Erik Kleine shared a case with me about a situation in which he winded up between two arguing managers. "The tension between the two had been building up for some time and I wasn't too surprised when the situation escalated. It happened when the three of us were having a meeting. After one of them had made a critical remark about the other one's performance, a severe dispute emerged and I was caught in the middle. How could I solve this without choosing sites? I decided to let them rage on for a few moments. After a few minutes, I suggested to end the conversation and to continue it soon in a somewhat calmer atmosphere. With one of the two I agreed to talk further that same afternoon. With the other one, I continued talking, after a brief break, over a cup of coffee. In those two brief conversations both of the managers mainly blew of steam and they were very critical of one another. The next day, I went to work early to have a follow up conversation with both of them. In those conversations I invited them to look from a professional perspective at the other person and to identify at least five strengths of the other person saying that people are never only bad. I asked them if they could work again with the other person if the other one would use the strengths they had themselves identified. I invited them to think about that. Fortunately, things cooled down rapidly. I had a third conversation with the two of them. I explained which strengths they had identified in the other person. Then I shared with them how I had learned to appreciate both of them and how I thought they had the potential of being a very strong couple. I asked them what they could do to get their cooperation going again. This helped. Both of them have now said they want to work again with the other one and they have started to do this again. It was interesting how focusing explicitly on positive points has helped to prevent the situation from getting worse.

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