Let’s step back now and analyze the dialogue that just took place.
My first comment to Hank was, “Your plan won’t work.” In just one sentence I managed to tell Hank that his twenty-five years of experience in this company were worth as much to me as flea powder. Being a red-blooded American boss, Hank felt attacked. And when people are attacked, emotions come into play.
With my first sentence, I had begun the war. Hank and I were both developing retaliation strategies. And everything we did at this point was colored by our emotions. No one could win. One of us would get our way (undoubtedly Hank) and, as Einstein once said so eloquently, “The war is won, but the peace is not.” There would no longer be a neutral environment between us, no peace. And if that were to happen, guess who the big loser would be?
My explanation to help him understand my viewpoint had a good intention. But intent and effect are two different things. The effect was that I insulted him again, this time with details on why it was stupid (or he was stupid) to do it his way.
George Thompson, in his insightful book Verbal Judo, offers a provocative thought on how our emotions influence our thinking. He says, “We all deal with people under the influence nearly every day. If it’s not alcohol or drugs, it’s frustration, fear, impatience, lack of self-worth, defensiveness, and a host of other influences.”
Hank and I were now interacting with each other while under the influence—the influence of our egos, our frustration with each other, and our emotions.
My last salvo, which took place as Hank had effectively dismissed me, was, “I want to redesign it.” Why should Hank even consider that idea? I had just told him his plans were stupid, implying that perhaps he was too. There was no way he could look at my plan with an open mind, or look at me without a sense of growing irritation.
Let’s re-create the story and look at how I should have handled this:
I am sitting in my office, and Hank comes in to talk about the productivity incentive program. “Here is what I want you to do with our incentive program.” Hank hands me a two-page outline of what the incentive program had looked like in the past.
As I look down at the paper that was handed to me, Hank’s deep cigarette-braised voice barrels out, “I’d like to introduce the program Friday and begin on Monday. Let me know if there are any problems with that.” Hank heads back to his office.
I try to think clearly enough to develop a plan. I start thinking about what he said and why he acted that way. I have to ignore my anger and quiet my thumping heart; I need to think from his perspective. If I understand what he likes most about his plan, I can figure out how to present my own recommendations in a way that might intrigue him, maybe even excite him. But to do that, I realize, I really need more information. I need to ask questions and get Hank to talk.