Address work conflicts by viewing issue from colleague's perspective (from HBR Blog, by Jordan Cohen)

Sharing a thoughtful HRB Blog piece by an acquaintance of mine, Jordan Cohen, who created and used to run the PfizerWorks program, which empowered professionals there to outsource their less value added/admin work to pre-approved internal and external vendors. He explores a critical issue with this question: "How many conflicts at work result from simply being unable to see the issue from your counterpart’s perspective?"

Put Yourself in Your Colleague’s Shoes

by Jordan Cohen  |   10:00 AM October 6, 2014

I start my mornings with a run around Central Park in New York City. Over the last 18 months, it’s become more like dodging the cyclists as I make my way around the loop than going for a relaxing jog.  Cursing, flipping the bird – even a near miss – are regular occurrences as these two groups of athletes try to get their daily workout. I’ve even seen a cyclist spit on a runner.

How could so many cyclists be so angry? Wanting to understand, last Saturday I borrowed a friend’s bicycle, strapped on his cycling shoes, and clipped into the pedals. I entered the park on West 77th Street, where a steep ramp descends into the 6-mile loop. I quickly accelerated down it and had to merge onto a roadway packed with runners and pedestrians who weren’t paying attention to me. As my bicycle picked up speed and I tried to enter the loop, I realized I was in danger — and so were the runners in my path. That’s when I shouted, “HEADS UP!”

I had been bicycling in the park for only a matter of seconds and I was already yelling at runners and pedestrians.

My perspective shift was immediate. But I didn’t feel angry – I felt scared. Any unexpected move by a runner could mean a serious collision, both for me and for them.

This got me thinking: how common is it to really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes? For instance, earlier this year, a friend introduced me to a senior vice president at a Fortune 50 Company. In our introductory phone call I expected to discuss different productivity and labor models available for his large, multinational corporation. But after I asked some high-level questions and offered the important principles for how I organize roles and systems, this executive raised his voice, shouting, “That won’t work here! You don’t understand us!” and “It’s more complicated than that!” I quickly excused myself from the call, thanked him for his time, and suggested that maybe my area of expertise wasn’t helpful for him at this time. Privately, though, I was thinking, Great, another arrogant executive that you can’t tell anything that he doesn’t already know. What a jerk.

But now, in light of my recent Central Park epiphany, I have been rethinking how I perceived that call.  During our 25-minute conversation, I’m almost certain I did not say something to anger this man. And he is probably not a jerk; after all, we did get introduced through a mutual friend. What manifested as a demanding, short tempered, take-no-prisoners posture may have just been an executive under extraordinary pressure, working to protect himself or his team from something he feared — inadequacy, failure, embarrassment, or even just change.  Maybe if I’d done a better job of putting myself in his shoes, I would have been able to help.

How many conflicts at work result from simply being unable to see the issue from your counterpart’s perspective? I began to brainstorm a list of how coworkers might be better able to understand one another’s point of view:

  • Asking your boss if you can be a fly on the wall at one of the meetings her supervisor runs, so that you come away with a better idea of the pressures she and her peers face, and how you can help mitigate them.
  • Rotating responsibilities within your department, so that you create a shared understanding of what it takes to get stuff done, and increase visibility into the teammates’ competing objectives.
  • Accepting a role on a cross-enterprise or cross-functional task force – roles that are usually avoided at all costs – to get more exposure to what is going on elsewhere in the organization.
  • Taking an “externship” with a customer, working with their company for a defined period of time to really understand what it’s like to be a customer being serviced by your organization.

This list is far from exhaustive — and it’s worth emphasizing that what actually worked best for me had nothing to do with work. Building your empathy muscles in any capacity can improve your ability to see situations differently in unexpected ways, whether you’re in or out of the office. It doesn’t have to be some touchy feely training session. It can be as simple as changing some habits or reading a good novel. Or even taking a ride in the park.

Full post here: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/10/put-yourself-in-your-colleagues-shoes/?utm_source=newsletter_daily_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alert_date&cm_ite=DailyAlert-100714+%281%29&cm_lm=shanibeth%40gmail.com&referral=00563&cm_ven=Spop-Email&cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-daily_alert-_-alert_date