Factoring in Relationships
Overall, I have had a really good career. I started at the bottom in IT and worked my way into leadership stepping through many roles. Early on my work was very technical and as years past, the work become more technically abstract.
What I’ve learned along the way is that nothing is more important than relationships with people. I have personally slipped into the trap of believing in facts and figures to support a position. What I didn’t account for cognitive dissonance. In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. Many of the problems we experience today in the world are great examples of cognitive dissonance. People become uncomfortable and they choose to ignore or disbelieve facts.
The reason this is important when it comes to credibility is that if someone doesn’t like you, even if you are the best in your field, you will never be able to leverage your credibility. You may have the facts on your side but there are only a few occasions where you can overcome the relationship factor.
Many years ago, while working on an architecture project for senior DoD leader, and IBM fellow came in to discuss a highly specialized topic. This man was absolutely brilliant and could dive into his mind and pull the most specific and factual information relevant to the conversation in seconds. There were a few representatives from the DoD in the room including our leader and on the other side of the table was the IBM troop. In these days, IBM would send something like 12 people to a sales and services discussion.
The conversation started with our leadership explaining the work, the purpose, the goals and objectives and the outcome we sought to achieve. All was quiet in the first moments, until we started talking about how to implement methodology and technologically enable the process. It started with a series of questions from the man (lets call him Paul). Paul asked and exhausted his questions to our leadership and technical team until most of the team was out of answers. The team didn’t have a problem with the questions but when Paul started to take the answers and align them to his perspective without relevant operational information and context, the frustration started to build up. Our leader was a very smart, strong and patient person. She calmly explained the rationale behind the work. Paul continued to boil up facts and figures until the other IBM team members who could read the room, started to shut him down. Paul had started to lose his voice as our leadership pushed harder to drive him into a corner. The meeting came to an end when a hand was slapped on the table through frustration.
Without the ability to gauge what was happening or read the room, Paul lost it. IBM was never invited back and even though some of the arguments were technically flawless, they weren’t even acknowledged. After the meeting, I looked into what he was proposing out of curiosity. Everything that he said was technically right and reflectively, if they would have looked deeper into the methodology that he was proposing, it could have had a material impact on the work globally. He was ineffective because of his personality, his tone, his approach and his inability to read people.
Making the Choice
I’ve chosen on many occasions to do the same thing as Paul did. I didn’t have intent to make people uncomfortable but I mistakenly thought they wanted facts. The truth is that most people want to hear affirmation of their perspective. This is especially true of senior leaders. They are looking for validation most of the time, not truth or facts. There are times where they are looking for information to inform them and raise their awareness and in these times, they bring consulting firms in or experts of their liking. Many times, when they bring these people in they only engage with them at the end of an assessment where they can be in a position to “discover” truth. There are certainly other conditions where people can avoid cognitive dissonance but if a person leans on his or her credibility to carry them into a successful outcome, I offer that it is more about the relationship vs the facts.
As you are navigating your career, have you seen something similar?
Have you been faced with facts and overlooked these because of the person delivering the message?
As a leader, what would you choose to do to overcome this challenge?
As an expert, what could you do to increase your chances of helping people by increasing your awareness of the people you are working with?
What if you are in a situation where you are already not in good favor with people?
There are times, that I’ve thought about this image and said “yup, bah bye” There are also occasions where I chose to realign myself to the situation and regroup. In the times where I have chosen to realign myself, I have always sought coaching and counseling. It is very hard to be self aware and sometimes, we can use a hand in figuring out what we look like to others.
What do you think? Have you been in situations like this?
Where do you go for help if you need it?