Monthly Archives: February 2017

man_woman_discussing

Jon just received an offer for his dream job: a more challenging job (in a good way), a bump in salary and a plum location.

The only trouble is, he enjoys working for his current boss Sarah, and he’s unsure how to explain that he’s leaving.  Hired directly out of college by Sarah, Jon hasn’t had to navigate a resignation conversation before.

As Jon speaks with Sarah, there are two types of rules that will govern how their conversation unfolds. Constitutive rules help us understand how to create meaning. Regulative rules guide the behavior of the conversation and communicate what happens next in a conversation.

Jon begins his conversation with Sarah by sharing how much he has learned from her in the five years he’s worked for her.  He mentions that she has been a role model in navigating office politics and securing resources.  Sarah must determine how to interpret Jon’s praise of her leadership (constitutive rule). She will draw on past experiences of being complimented on her leadership style and what those remarks meant (as well as her relationship with Jon) as she applies constitutive rules to make sense of what he means.

“However,” Jon continues, invoking a constitutive rule that suggests Sarah will need to make additional meaning out of what comes next. “I’ve made the difficult decision to take a role with a new firm.”

Sarah must compose some sort of response, governed by a regulative rule.  She may ask for more information about the new opportunity Jon is pursuing or if there’s anything she could do to persuade him to stay.

As the two engage in the conversation and co-create their social reality, they will discover each other’s rule systems. Some rules they have known from working together and some will be discovered in this novel situation.

While these rules are not spoken of aloud, they are constantly being negotiated in the moment, drawing on the life experiences and world views of the conversational partners, which may vary markedly. They may not agree entirely on the rules they are choosing to enact, but at least they can make sense of their conversation and what will happen next.

What conversational rules can you identify – either constitutive or regulative – and how do they shape meaning making or turn taking in the conversation?

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    argument

    Doug and Jenny were at it again.

    Another staff meeting where Jenny and Doug were on the opposite sides of the same coin: Jenny, advocating for an engineering schedule that was realistic and didn’t compromise the health or safety of her crew and Doug, fiercely arguing for a faster delivery to their clients.

    It went like this every week in the project management meeting.

    Morgan, the project manager, had spoken to each of them privately just before the meeting.  They each shared a genuine desire to be more amicable and see the situation from the other person’s point of view before reacting.

    Publicly in the meeting, their behavior was nowhere near amicable. It was the same pattern repeating itself. Again. Their pattern was not one of sharing respectful differences.  Rather, their behavior was unprofessional and ego bruising, their words like daggers.

    Frustrated, Morgan spoke to each of them privately after the meeting. She had to get to the bottom of this disagreement before it put the project in jeopardy.  How could they have earnestly promised to comport themselves more professionally and then act like small children throwing sand in the sandbox?

    Doug and Jenny were caught in an unwanted repetitive pattern or (URP), a sequential and recurring episode of conflict that is considered unwanted by those in the conflict (not to mention those around them!).

    URPs develop because two people have fallen into a pattern or script that demands each of them to behave in a conflicting manner. Often, the pattern one person is following serves to fuel the negativity of the other and the other person follows a pattern of responding in a negative manner.

    Doug and Jenny, separately, both told Morgan “I couldn’t help it, I had no choice but to stick up for [the customer/the engineering team].”

    Doug and Jenny will continue to enact their URP until the script gets interrupted. Either one of them could deliberately choose to behave differently or Morgan could choose to structure the meeting and the conversation such that the URP doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

    URPs are difficult to stop and change. The first step is to identify that they are occurring in the first place. Where do you experience an unwanted repetitive pattern and how might you interrupt the script?

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    communication-problem

    When people talk to one another, three outcomes are possible:

    • they completely miss each other’s point (zero shared meaning),
    • they understand a portion of each other’s intended meaning (partial shared meaning) or
    • they completely understand each other (complete shared meaning).

    When you miss the other person entirely, you feel like a zero.

    When you completely understand the other person, you look like a hero.

    Let’s look at each of them and turn you into a hero more often.

    1. Zero shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda.  The next day, Shelly comes to work to find that Amanda has shared an internal scheduling document that lists the roll-out dates for all new features with all the company’s clients.

    Shelly’s intention was to start the discussion or about being more transparent. Amanda understood this as an idea to act upon immediately.  As you might suppose, Shelly was upset that Amanda had shared an internal document with clients.

    2. Partial shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “It’s not going to be a simple process and I’m not sure how much we can share,” Amanda replies. “Some of our customers will be upset to see how low on the priority list the features they are waiting for are.”

    Amanda and Shelly agree in general on the premise, although there is some negotiation and compromise on how much detail to share.

    3. Complete shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “I couldn’t agree more,” Amanda replies. “I will set up a time on the calendar for us to draft a message to our clients and we can decide how much information to share and when.”  Shelly nods in agreement, “Perfect.”

    Amanda and Shelly are in lock step on both the need to share more information and on the route they will take to begin the new process.  Although they are entering the conversation with their own experiences, they agree on the premise and the next steps.

    This happens at work in conversation: we nail shared meaning, miss each other completely, or find some middle ground.

    When you get partial or no shared meaning, ask yourself “Why?”  What makes the difference for you in creating more shared meaning? A history of working well together? Similar demographics?  Length of time in the organization?

    Once you understand the “Why,” the “How” (as in, how you communicate with the person) will get easier to figure out. Next time you have a miscommunication (full or partial) ask yourself “Why?” and adjust how you communicate with them accordingly.

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