Polite/impolite Company – working with hot button topics

We could hear the yelling voices down the hallway even though the thick fire doors were closed.”

OK so the topic wasn’t politics or religion in the usual senses of the words, but it was about money and quality which are basically other terms for politics and religion. This was the worried look explanation when I got asked to help a project about quality reviews. They hadn’t been able to come to any agreements and the non-agreements were fraught with lots of yelling and red faces.

My VP took me out to dinner the evening before the group was to start and explained his side of the back story. I politely listened, but when he outlined what he wanted for a result I had to tell him it just didn’t work that way. The group would decide on the result; that’s why they were in agreement that I could facilitate it, because they knew I’d honor the process.

“I don’t hear any yelling.”

All the nervous talk prior to this project did make me feel a little tense, but I let the process do the work. Starting with agreed upon ground rules – seek to understand/listen, no name calling, etc. The group set them, I posted them. The agreed upon purpose with any clarifications they needed to state, also clearly up on the wall. Then all the things they wanted or wanted to avoid – they wrote these on post-its and then as a group we categorized them under group headings; again on the wall. Break time and of course there was no yelling. Everyone was being heard and had their say equally listened to.

Break time was quick and people didn’t separate into factions, I always see that as a good sign. I did some checking in to make sure they were on board so far, then quick summary and new angle of attack so they could see the issue from more directions – why were we having trouble with the current process, why was it a problem.

Hodag circa 1893 hoax in Northwoods Wisconsin. Really nothing to do with polite company, except he sure doesn’t look like he’d listen to anybody. The story goes that they had to use dynamite to subdue it.

Seek first to understand and then to be understood. We’ve got two ears and only one mouth, that gives us the ratio to live by. Way too often people assume they know what someone else is saying and dismiss it as foolish, dumb and ill-considered thinking. The regard for which other’s thoughts are held is easily seen from body language even without the words being expressed.

“Thank you, that was good. I think we really agreed on something we can all live with.”

“I appreciate it, but you guys did all the work, it was a great team effort. Very nice working with you.”

So was my VP satisfied with the result, actually he was, especially since it had the support from the other departments that had battled before.

When greeting a new person look at them, shake their hand if offered with a firm but not harsh grip, smile and repeat their name to help cement in into memory. Ask them about themselves, what they do, what they like, what hobbies they have and then embark on conversation about something you both can share tales about, preferably not religion or politics or any real flash point subjects because at this point neither of you has built up any reservoirs of good will for each other.

If you’re the host/hostess help them to meet any others and also to orient them to the surroundings, i.e. bathroom and food/beverage sources.

If you are planning a hot point discussion with friends or strangers first set up ground rules that will enable discussion and not enable name calling, swearing, fisticuffs.  Then shape the discussion so that points of view can be established and the background reasons can be exposed. Having a ‘Yes it is/No it isn’t’ argument is so middle school. Really….loose the Kracken! or Hodag.


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