When a project is coming apart, it's important to establish a shared vision and persuade all of the concerned parties to make any necessary concessions.
At the end of the night, that's the impression you want to leave everyone with. That you're a person. Not a system or a resource request. A person who shares a lot in common with them personally and, as you will remind them the following day, a person with whom you also share a great deal professionally.
Step 3: Remind. The next day it's time to re-establish the professional common ground you share with all your colleagues. The common purpose toward which you are all working.
Your individual ambitions will vary. The external vendor wants payment and a good reference. Finance wants to see a zero-budget impact solution. You want to make it out alive. But on a broad level everyone wants the project to succeed.
So when you walk in the next morning, before your first meeting starts, halt the conversation and say: "Before we continue, let’s all acknowledge we agree on these points. We all want the success of the company. We all see this project as imperative to the success of the company. We may currently disagree on how to best achieve that goal in the context of this project, but overall we are very much on the same page."
Getting everyone back on the same page won't solve everything. No one is going to give in completely because they feel warm-and-fuzzy again. You will still need to negotiate with contrary arguments and dueling perspectives. The main difference from before is that you can now do so in a constructive manner from a place of common shared ground.
Now you're ready for steps 4 and 5, which pretty much go hand in hand.
Step 4: Listen. Don't ruin the good will you've worked so hard to create by fighting tooth-and-nail again. Instead, listen. When your colleagues start to talk, don't talk. Just sit there silently. Absorb everything they say. Take notes. Then, after they've said everything they want to say, demonstrate your empathetic understanding of their positions by paraphrasing everything they said right back to them.
After every point they make, explain your understanding of that point right back to them. Tell them, "Here’s what I heard…." And if they aren’t nodding along through your reiteration of their point, have them explain that point to you again, and then paraphrase it back to them. Repeat this exchange as many times as necessary until you share an agreed-upon understanding of every one of their points—and every one of yours.
I know this sounds cheesy and tedious, but you have to do it! If you can't even agree on what you're arguing about, then you’ll never agree on how to resolve these points of friction.
Step 5: Close the Gap. Now you are in a position to offer—and ask for—bigger concessions. Now is the time to move in and close the gap between where things are today and where they can realistically be tomorrow. Start by negotiating the biggest and most important issues first ... and one by one, you will slowly close the gap.
In the end, the overall shift from a negotiated view of "Me and my point of view" to a greater perspective of "We and our shared vision" opens up the possibility to find innovative solutions. More importantly, it calms the things down and returns a measure of normalcy to even the toughest situations.
So, take these five steps and put them to practice on your most challenging scenario.
It won’t necessarily make things easy, but it will make them possible.
Let me know how they work for you.
About the Author
Marc J. Schiller has spent more than two decades teaching IT strategy and leadership to the world’s top companies. Through online courses, speaking engagements and corporate consulting, his company educates IT pros at all levels on how to be more effective, influential and successful in their IT careers. Get access to free videos and an excerpt from his book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, at www.marcjschiller.com/resources.
To read his previous CIO Insight article, "The Three-Step Process for Becoming the Next Apple," click here.