There is an oft-cited best practice for conflict resolution called the speaker-listener technique—in which the speaker explains their position and the listener repeats back to the speaker what he heard him say. Then the speaker and listener switch roles.
After both sides have had a chance to express themselves, and the other side has repeated what they heard, both parties are ready to resolve their differences with greater understanding of each other.
The Wall Street Journal, 27 July 2010, in an article called “Fighting Happily Ever After” promotes the speaker-listener technique for improving couples communications and making happier, longer-lasting relationships.
I believe that the speaker-listener technique works not only because it improves the actual information flow and understanding between people, but also because it improves the perception that people have towards each other—from being adversarial to being collaborative.
In the sheer act of reaching out to others through genuine listening and understanding, we establish the trust of the other person that we want to work toward a win-win solution, as opposed to a clobber the other guy with what you want to do, and go home victorious.
In contrast, think of how many times people don’t really talk with each other, but rather at each other. When this occurs, there is very little true interaction of the parties—instead it is a dump by one on the other. This is particularly of concern to an organization when the speaker is in a position of authority and the listener has legitimate concerns that don’t get heard or taken seriously.
For example, when the boss (as speaker) “orders” his/her employees to action instead of engaging and discussing with them, the employees (as listener) may never really understand why they are being asked to perform as told (what the plan is) or even permitted to discuss how best they can proceed (what the governance is).
Here, there is no real two-way engagement. Rather, workers are related to by their superiors as automatons or chess pieces rather than as true value-add people to the mission/organization.
In the end, it is not very fulfilling for either party—more than that when it comes to architecture, governance, and execution, we frequently end up with lousy plans, decisions, and poorly performing investments.
Instead, think about the potential when employers and employees work together as a team to solve problems. With leaders facilitating strategic discussions and engaging with their staffs in open dialogue to innovate and seeking everyone’s input, ideas, reactions. Here employees not only know the plan and understand it, but are part of its development. Further, people are not just told what to do, but they can suggest “from the front lines” what needs to be done and work with others from a governance model on where this fits in the larger organizational context.
Speaking—listening—and understating each other is the essence of good conflict management and of treating people with decency and respect. Moreover, it is not just for couple relationship building, but also for developing strong organizational bonds and successfully planning and execution.
To me, creating a framework for conflict resolution and improved communication is an important part of what good enterprise architecture and IT governance is all about in the organization. Yet we don’t often talk about these human factors in technology settings. Rather the focus is on the end state, the tool, the more impersonal technical aspects of IT implementation and compliance.
Good architecture and governance processes help to remedy this a bit:
With architecture—we work together to articulate a strategic roadmap for the organization; this provides the goals, objectives, initiatives, and milestones that we work towards in concert.
With governance—we listen to each other and understand new requirements, their strategic alignment, return on investment, and the portfolio management of them. We listen, we discuss, we understand, and we make IT investment decisions accordingly.
Nevertheless, at this time the focus in IT is still heavily weighted toward operations. Research on IT employee morale shows that we need to better incorporate and mature our human capital management practices. We need to improve how we speak with, listen to and build understanding of others not only because that is the right thing to do, but because that will enable us to achieve better end results.