Avoiding authentic discussion in order to be effective


Alfred is a product manager, based in the Philadelphia US HQ. Alfred’s role is to ensure that the global sales force sells what is on his products’ road map, in order to ensure that the product will not “disassemble” into hundreds of diverse versions.

Som is a Thailand based Sales Manager in the same company. When Som looks at Alfred’s product, she believes it is overpriced and has too many features for the cost sensitive Thai market. There is also a color issue, because the red logo of the product has political implications. Som thinks that if she exposes Alfred’s product to her customers, she will be accused to trying to rip them off. She will lose friends and face. Furthermore, Som believes that Alfred superlatives about his product are “demeaning” and make her clients feel talked down to.

Alfred is coming to Thailand to promote his product and wants to meet “directly” with Som’s Thai customers; Som is doing everything she can to block Alfred’s meeting with them. Till now, Alfred’s 12 meeting requests have been turned down by the customers.

Business unit manager Karol Plessis (my client) has asked me to “patch up” the relationship “ between Alfred and Som so that “we don’t look like a bunch of clowns”.

Alfred wants a 3 way meeting (Allon, Som and Alfred) to work out the details of the visit.

Som wants “not to discuss this issue with Alfred, because I need to keep working with Alfred”. Som told me that if she loses her temper with Alfred, “we will never be able to work well again”. (I did NOT tell Som that she is not working well with Alfred, because she thinks that she is… by NOT telling him her concerns directly).

Som told me to “tell Alfred what I think, and propose a compromise. I agree to any compromise you make.”

My belief is that someone from a traditional OD background would explain to Alfred the sensitivities of Som and in parallel, explain to Som what she needs to change in order to be effective with Alfred. Then in a facilitated meeting, Som and Alfred would meet to discuss the issue, meeting somewhere in the middle.

On the other hand, the global OD consultant would probably assume that the possibility of building healthy communication between Som and Alfred in a short period of time is low and thus, their communication should be “mediated” as much as possible. The global OD consultant does not want Som to tell her clients that she is bringing a big shot from HQ, telling them “please meet him but don’t worry, he does not really make any decisions”.

A Global OD consultant would  work out a compromise between Som and Alfred in separate meetings to cement a very detailed agreement on Alfred’s upcoming meeting, including ground rules in the unfortunate case that they decide to go to clients together. When the consultant has a 3 way meeting between Som and Alfred, everything will have been agreed in advance.

The global OD consultant prefers to avoid direct dialogue Som and Alfred. The traditional OD consultant on the other hand believes that direct communication is best; when people have disagreements, they should talk things out and meet in the middle.

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4 thoughts on “Avoiding authentic discussion in order to be effective

  1. I wonder whether this explains why sensitive diplomatic issues are often addressed through “shuttle diplomacy” rather than face-to-face?

  2. I wonder if in your view the traditional OD consultant under Western influence is not the ‘product’ of a mode of management (a culture?) whose purpose (increasing efficiency and profitability) seems to lead inexorably to a two-sides polarization. It creates a determination to pursue truth by setting up a fight between two sides leading to believe that every issue has two sides — no more, no less: If both sides are given a forum to confront each other, all the relevant information will emerge, and the best case will be made by each side. 

    Most issues (situations and/ or behaviors) however are not composed of two competing sides but look more like a crystal of many sides. Ignoring the here and now obscures the full range of facts and implications, let alone the nuances and subtle complexities.

  3. Allon, two questions:
    Could this be a situation where Son could more comfortably use a case study from another product to make her point? If Jitterbug phones sold comparatively better than 4G phones in the market, could she ask a question if the market was ready for Alfred’s excellent product without confronting him directly?
    Does Son being a woman influence her stance? What if she had been male and Alfred female?

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