Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reacting to Controversy

I've written several posts about the need for civility, good karma, and a thoughtful process for every issue.

I have to react to negativity several times each day. As I review my email, I read numerous reports of challenges, frustration, and dissatisfaction. It's an expected part of being a senior leader in large, complex organizations and being a CIO.

Some of these emails have a controversial he said/she said character.

Responding to them requires tact and diplomacy. I want to support and protect my staff but also want to ensure we improve our processes in the interest of continuous quality improvement.

Recently, I read an article about the Shirley Sherrod case by Steve Adubato, who speaks and coaches on leadership and communication. His observations mirror many of the lessons I've learned when reacting to controversy.

*Don’t be so quick to judge if you haven’t heard the entire story.

*Due diligence is critical when it comes to communication.

*Realize how dangerous it is to assume.

*Get the whole message.

As my due diligence progresses, I find that many emails have the quality of Roseanne Roseannadanna (for you 1978-1980 Saturday Night Live Fans).

People misrepresent the facts, distort the truth to suit their own ends, and highlight events that are in their self interest and not the greater good.

It's really important to check out the facts from multiple stakeholders before drawing a conclusion.

It's really important to pick up the phone and talk through the issues, listening and taking an active interest in all sides of the story.

It's really important to suggest next steps, assign accountability, and deliver on your promises.

Understanding the facts, having a dialog, and meeting expectations for followup resolves most conflicts.

As with the Sherrod case, once you know the whole story, most controversies are not what they seem.


Michelle W said...

I agree: hard as it is, taking the time to understand another's viewpoint is often the best route to take. The problem I think we encounter is that some equate "understanding" with "agreement," when in fact that's not the case. However, when we attempt to see another's viewpoint, we can better articulate our own disagreement with that view, and perhaps find some areas of mutual agreement in the middle.

Anonymous said...

Simple but very effective steps for due diligence.

To minimize undesired behavior in the future, I believe it should be categorically discouraged or disapproved of (wherever possible).

Anonymous said...

This is so timely it is almost creepy. Having just come home from finding myself unexpectedly in the central position of a controversy between several people, that seemingly came out of nowhere and which I have to take a lead in resolving, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate these reminders today.

'gina said...

Timely commentary, applicable in all aspects of life and work

Don Livsey said...

Good thoughts for life in general.

Medical Quack said...

Great post and things we need to remember. I especially liked the 4 things not do think about doing...assuming...big one there and anyone in IT knows we can't do that!

Patience in listening I found is one area that is trying at times and you may have heard the same incident or story twice before but when hearing it the 3rd time some new elements could be added and perhaps the additional information given may lead to a solution:)

We are all indeed dealing with a lot of frustrating situations today and to rise above it and keep that good karma going can be challenging, but well worth all our efforts:)

Anonymous said...

great point. Look at today's WSJ a similar column by Peggy Noonan. She points out the lack of civility of all of our leaders and the "boiling point" being reached in our country's public dialogue. Whether you agree with her politics of not she is spot on. Dr. Halamka, your column provides a possible fix if only some of those folks could read it!


Lindsey Hoggle said...

Thank you for insight on this topic. I am also one who cringes when controversy is handled in brash fashion. Your reference to "Roseanne Roseannadanna" made me pause to smile (and also date myself!) as a great example of absurd reactions to life. The older I get, the more I realize that we often do not know what another is experiencing or how we would react if in that position. Perhaps in cases like Shirley Sherrod, we should allow public figures to issue a gracious apology and perhaps all learn from misplaced words. I never give up hope for a gentler nation.

Madonna said...

In my career, and in my current company, I have found email to be a reliable source of innuendo and miscommunication. I have 15 people on my IT Team. Even just amongst themselves - who are supposed to be peers, team mates, and speak the same techno jargon - I have seen an attempt at a simple communication turn into outright flame-mail.

To help mitigate exacerbated communications within the IT Department, and between IT and the other departments, we have implemented the One-Two Telephone Rule. You are permitted to send an email, requesting feedback or information. If the response does not provide the information you think you are requesting...PICK UP THE PHONE and call the individual. If email didn't work the first time, chances are that playing ping-pong with email can only escalate emotions unnecessarily.

While it hasn't eliminated misunderstandings, it certainly has reduced them.

Thanks, as always, for your insightful posts.