Question: How do I overcome a complete communication breakdown?

I run the customer advocacy department in a healthcare company. In a recent team meeting, several outstanding issues came to a boil with my fellow executive who heads one of the larger operations teams. (A big reason for our falling Net Promoter Score)

Since then our personal relations have been frosty, and the publicity of the incident has had a negative impact on collaborative work between our teams. Needless to say, neither of us intended that.

I want to correct the situation immediately, even though my grievances need resolution... I fear there are no quick fixes. I also want to do it in a way where I do not lose face with my direct reports, some of who were present in the meeting.

6 Expert answers

All healthy relationships are conscious, intentional and thrive on differences!  In order for you, your colleague (and the two teams you are leading) to creatively solve the “falling Net Promoter Score,” and other issues, you all must learn to disagree without being disagreeable!  Innovation is forged in the fire of passion and hammered into shape on the anvil of contention!

Besides the two fine references mentioned about, consider studying Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book: “Nonviolent Communication.” This is a simple process for reconciling (not just resolving) disagreement without hostility and long term damage (i.e. loss of face).

Our Authentic Leadership model supports healthy relationships with a Designed Alliance that safely meets the needs of both individuals and eliminates un-negotiated expectations.  From the limited information you have presented, I make up that you and your colleague have some un-negotiated expectations of each other.  One, or both of you, feel let down, disappointed and angered by the other’s actions (or in actions).

The longer this angst festers, un-reconciled, the more damage it will do to you and your team.  Soon it will be covered over by “professional” behavior.  No one will speak of the low-level chronic anger; it may even sink below consciousness.  But it will continue to contaminate the relationship between the two teams.

Presumably, if you had both agreed or been able to understand each other's positions during the meeting, things wouldn't have come to a boil and wouldn't be frosty now.

Would it be possible to set up a meeting with your colleague with the goal of, first, understanding his/her perspective on the issue? Second, and only if you can get to the point of your colleague feeling that you understand his/her position, perhaps you could ask your colleague to try to understand your position.

Then, if you are each able to understand your colleague's perspective, perhaps you can work together on a mutually agreeable solution. If you are able to achieve this, perhaps it could serve as a model for understanding and managing conflict within your groups.

If you are interested in a resource, you might consider taking a look at "Discussing the Undiscussable" by William R Noonan

I believe my two Mentors Guild colleagues have given good responses.  And ... the key ingredient to having this work is that both of you are as interested in righting this relationship.  Your respective teams are going to look to you as the two leaders to determine that things are good or not.  So finding the way to come together for the good of the organization as professionals is absolutely key.  If both of you are amenable to reading the suggested book(s) and then coming together to apply the learning toward a solution it can be successful.  Of importance is that when you come together to resolve the situation, you both be motivated to do so ... if not personally, for the good of the company which is the primary basis for your relationship.

I'd be remiss if I didn't say that this is a situation wherein working with a coach as a third party can have the desired impact, outcome and speed with which you'd like to rid yourselves and the company of this negative scenario.

What members of the executive team have made it clear that a falling Net Promoter Score is a critical metric for the organization?  Is there a process to trace root cause and take corrective action when Net Promoter Score (or for that matter any declining business metric) falls?

One of the basics of Continuous Improvement is "work together to find root cause, not to place blame" and that principle also creates a more constructive communications and conflict resolution environment.

When I was the Senior HR and Organizational Excellence exec in the healthcare services sector, we had identified all the factors that impacted our Net Promoter Score.  Each time we measured and updated our score we had a process and a system that enabled us to track the root cause(s) of the decline with the focus being on solutions and improvements.  

We also realized that the Operations/Client Services groups often took the brunt of problems elsewhere in the organization and until we took the find root cause approach seriously, they felt like the whipping post for anything that caused customers to be dissatisfied.

I agree with Jonathan. I am recommending another book I find very useful: "Crucial Conversations"

I concur with the suggestions above. I believe it may be helpful to add specifics. In "Non-violent Communication", I learned that underneath every unpleasant feeling is at least one unmet need. Once unmet needs are verbalized, then each party can negotiate for their needs to be met.

Try to focus first on Purposes rather than Positions. Move to Higher ground to find Common ground. If you can agree on a Strategic Purpose (answers the What and Why questions), then you can negotiate Tactical Positions (How, When, Where, etc). Useful questions to ask yourself and the other person: "What are your unmet needs?" and "What is your ideal outcome?"