This is the second part of a post inspired by a guest post I did for Tanveer Naseer’s blog.  The guest post and the first and second installments of this post explore how your biases and prejudices about your team members affect the quality and tone of conflict.  If you haven’t read the first half, read it here first.

A small but nicely appointed office on the 3rd floor of a large corporate headquarters building.
Behind the desk sits Sunil, a 37 year old marketing director.
Into his office walks Catherine, the enthusiastic new brand manager for the company’s second tier breakfast cereal brand “Krunchie Kritters.”

(Catherine sits down across from Sunil at his desk.)

(Sunil comes out from behind his desk and sits down in a chair beside Catherine.)

Catherine: “I just heard from Josh that you are holding the marketing budget for Krunchies flat for next year. That has me pretty worried.  Can you fill me in on where you’re at with the budget?”

(Sunil sits back and takes a deep breath.)

Sunil: (Empathetically) “First of all, I’m sorry that you heard from Josh before I got to speak to you directly. You’re right, it’s been a tough budget cycle because of the bad Q4 numbers. I don’t exactly have good news, but we’ve protected a small increase for Krunchies while most of the other budgets are going down..

(Catherine runs her hand through her hair, looking stressed.)

Sunil: “I know 2% means you won’t be able to do some of the things you wanted to. I’d be happy to help you think through your priorities.”

(Sunil leans in toward Catherine, looking her in the eye.)

Catherine: “I was really hoping to do a tv campaign this year.”

Sunil: “I know you’re keen on tv ads. I would love to walk you through a new report we just got from the AMA about viewing habits of the 8-14 age bracket. They seem to be influenced by some new ad strategies. Would you like to set up a time to brainstorm about some other creative options?”

Catherine: I really miss digging in to that kind of research, this brand manager role makes me feel a bit disconnected from the latest and greatest in marketing.  If you don’t mind, I’d love to get a few of us in a room to walk through that.

(Catherine turns to head out of Sunil’s office.)

Catherine: (genuinely) “Sunil, I’ve really enjoyed our discussion, thank you SO much for all your help.”

What went right?

What assumptions did Sunil and Catherine make about each other and the situation? How did those assumptions allow them to have a more productive discussion than in the first version?

  1. Sunil assumed it might be a difficult discussion and came out from behind his desk to make it feel less adversarial.
  2. Catherine assumed that she didn’t have the complete picture and made room for Sunil to fill her in.
  3. Sunil assumed that Catherine was looking out for the best interest of the Krunchie Kritters business and that her concerns about reduced budget were legitimate.
  4. Sunil assumed that this was a problem that could be resolved if they worked together.
  5. Catherine assumed Sunil would be able to add value and that he was motivated to help her find a good solution.

Sunil and Catherine chose to make positive assumptions about one another.  By choosing positive assumptions, the tenor of the discussion was more constructive, the dialogue was more open, and there was a greater likelihood they would come up with a workable solution for the business.

When do you give your teammates the benefit of the doubt? Can you think of a time when your negative assumptions about someone caused a discussion to go south in a hurry? What is your obligation to your team and your organization when it comes to making assumptions that lead to productive conflict?

Try rewriting your conflict script.

Further Reading

Ugly Conflict

How to Take the Sting out of Conflict

4 Secrets of Avoiding the Conflict Spiral

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