Sunday, 20 June 2010

How to be understood

Rule # 1: expect to be misunderstood. Mostly, we assume that understanding is normal. Wrong. Ask any spouse, sibling, parent, or lover. 

Successful service-sales and service-delivery people for instance, have woken up to this through competitive pressure, grinding experience, and objective analysis. Then by deliberate, focused action they have changed their assumptions and their behaviour.

They know the cost and risk of misunderstanding is high. They manage that risk by specialising and standardising their processes; by building durable interpersonal customer-relationships for learning and forgiveness; and continually seeking to delight the customer.  It becomes second nature – tacit.

But put those same sales and service people in a changed environment, even slightly different, and they can easily come unstuck. That now-tacit knowledge that has served them so proudly may well not work in the new environment.

This has been highlighted for me in my health service business development work. The New Zealand health services sector is in turmoil: yet another major government policy driven re-organisation; around the sixth in eight years.

This time it’s to vertically and horizontally merge and integrate health services. This when competition has been king and professional collaboration suspected as feather bedding; fear and loathing have become strong undercurrents in relationships between health professionals and their managers, between managers and between the managers of different organisations.

Competitors have become entrenched in their niches, adapted and fine tuned to the bureaucratic motivations and behaviour of their health sector customers, while the health professionals immersed themselves in their consumer relationships. 

Suddenly these competitors have to merge and join up.  Can they communicate to achieve that productively and innovatively? Fat chance! Misunderstanding reaches new heights: evidence, real and imagined, of defamation, misinformation and skulduggery is everywhere in an environment of fear and loathing. Even longstanding trusting relationships are suspect.

Mergers and join-ups that do occur are suspected as, and at least some are, driven by self interest and political gain, and as a result are slow to be productive in the essentially collaborative, professional, vocational world of health service.

So what can be done? Answer: expect to be misunderstood and take the time and trouble to find shared understanding in shared metaphor (stories) and experience; shared purpose; joint projects. Trust is found in action not argument.

Share your perspectives and reflections on that joint action by sharing stories. Be more than two dimensional “role holders.” Share stories about yourselves.
Remember you are dating with marriage in mind. The time to invest in the durability, mutual productivity, and enjoyment of that potential relationship is at the outset. Sacrifice “task” progress to build shared understanding.

The guy/woman you find so frustrating may not be a linear analytical, task oriented, conventional high achiever like you. He/she may think in pictures, think laterally to solve puzzles and make sense of seeming confusion; thinking that’s likely not crucial in the production environment that you have excelled in, but is crucial in a fast changing environment.


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