The extent to which a project team can come to the table with a sense of empathy and work through constructive conflict is an indicator of future project success.
Conversely, a “self-centered attitude leads to friction, miscommunication, and missed opportunities.” In many associations, this can result in a proliferation of rogue IT projects... and yet more [unconstructive] conflict!
One aspect of empathy is feeling heard yourself. We’re more inclined to listen openly and nonjudgmentally when we receive the same courtesy. No surprise, right?
I had all this in mind when a Harvard Business Review article on conflict appeared in my newsfeed today: How to Make Sure You’re Heard in a Difficult Conversation, by Amy Gallo. How timely! Gallo offers several clear tips for recognizing that your opinion is just your opinion (or, on a project team: your perspective is yours; own it—and recognize that other team members have their own perspectives).
Gallo summarized being heard with a four-part mantra:
own your perspective
pay attention to your words
watch your body language
change the tenor of the conversation
Here’s my favorite takeaway from Gallo’s article (and the one I find most difficult to implement myself):
Say “and,” not “but.” “When you need to disagree with someone, express your contrary opinion as ‘and.’ It’s not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right,” she says. Engage your colleague in problem solving, which is inherently collaborative instead of combative.
Which brings me back to Tobin’s advice: “Make sure everyone understands and can articulate your common goal.” All this understanding and empathizing may feel awkward and uncomfortable, but—this “but” is intentional!—“You’re unlikely to come to a resolution if you don’t hear the other person out,” says Gallo. That goes for difficult conversations between two people—or entire project teams.