The Power of Forethought

March 29, 2011

Recently I was the fateful bystander to an argument among friends. What impressed me about my observations was that this argument was not the arms flailing, fists flying, words-you-couldn’t-say-in-front-of-your-mother, type argument. Instead, these two people were disagreeing in very civil, very calm, and positive ways.

The results that came out of their disagreement were astounding. Instead of getting lost in “who’s right” and “who’s wrong”, they exchanged probably three sentences before moving together in concrete action towards a mutual goal.

Bent as I am on PM, I couldn’t help but see the applicability here to team management.

You’ll be surprised at the power a simple re-wording of your knee jerk reactions will bring. Take this scenario:

One team member knows about a potential bug in the system, but no other team members can verify this bug. The temptation is to think that the lone team member is simply mistaken. However, instead of calling that person out on their mistake you can say something like “Well, I believe that you saw the problem. That is something to keep an eye on. In the meantime, let’s keep moving forward. You let me know if it becomes a bigger issue.”

In this way, you are respecting that team member. In every day terms, we call it giving someone the benefit of the doubt. The key is to be honestly respectful, because you don’t want to be patronizing. Your response needs to allow for that person to be correct, but move everyone forward just in case they might also be wrong. However, by avoiding the words “wrong” and “mistaken” in your verbal response, you not only give respect to that team member, but you seamlessly diffuse potential conflicts between that member and others.

When you are playing the management role, it is important to remember the power of forethought. Taking a few seconds before you speak to ask yourself “How is this going to sound when I say it? Is my team going to feel respected by this response?” if you cannot answer positively, take a few minutes to re-word. The cohesiveness and effective atmosphere in your team will improve dramatically.



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