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.

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. A Global OD consultant would prefer 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 meeting between the two, everything will have been agreed in advance.

The global OD consultant would not automatically prefer direct dialogue Som and Alfred because forcing Som to be open means, for Som, that she may not be able to continue working with Alfred.

The nightmare scenario of the global consultant is “apparent agreement” whereby Som agrees to compromise, but only verbally. The global OD consultant does not want Som to tell her clients that she is bringing a big shot from HQ; please meet him but don’t worry, he does not really make any decisions.

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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