Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's Not Simply What You Say, but How You Say It

Adam Bryant had a terrific article in the New York Times this weekend, in which he interviewed Robin Domeniconi, Senior Vice President and Chief Brand Officer of the Elle Group. Domeniconi describes her philosophy of leadership, and I particularly enjoyed her discussion of how she promotes candor and constructive conflict within her management team. She stresses that people can engage in vigorous debate, but how they articulate their disagreements matters a great deal. I concur completely. Language matters. Here is an excerpt:

One lesson I learned is from a phrase I picked up called M.R.I. It means the “most respectful interpretation” of what someone’s saying to you. I don’t need everyone to be best friends, but I need to have a team with M.R.I. You can say anything to anyone, as long as you say it the right way. Maybe you need to preface it with: “I’m just curious, and I want to understand what you’re saying better. Right now, my point of view is quite different. So can you help me understand why you don’t want to do this, or why you wanted to do this?”

Let me point out one key idea here. Domeniconi does not simply argue for being polite. She's telling us that people need to adopt an "inquiry" orientation when working collaboratively with others. They need to seek deeper understanding of others' points of view, and they need to maintain a healthy curiosity. They cannot simply advocate for their own views. They have to be trying to learn more about others' reasoning. In so doing, they can find better solutions together than simply engaging in a win-lose, zero-sum battle that can lead to very dysfunctional interpersonal conflict.


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Zixia said...

I cannot agree more. And sometimes what people do could also cause interpersonal conflicts.

Brian said...

This communication committment must, however, be a two way street. While the speaker must show respect for the audience, the listener must simultaneously respect the speaker's best intentions and not listen defensively or egocentricly. There is a tendency to validate a listener's reaction while the speaker bears all responsibility for any breach in respect. So it's also, "It's not simply what you hear, but the filter through which you listen."