Not on the same page, not even reading the same book
In the course of a project it is not uncommon to have stakeholders with conflicting viewpoints on a particular issue. Some examples of this include:
- The sponsor who wants a set of reports done in a day and the report writer who reckons it will take a week.
- The project manager who believes that tasks can be tracked to a very fine level and the developer who “knows” they can’t.
- The developer who is convinced that method A is the best way to go and her colleague who is equally certain that method B is the way to go.
These are but a small selection of the conflicts I have encountered in my work. Most project professionals would undoubtedly have had similar experiences. It can be difficult to reconcile such conflicting viewpoints because they are based on completely different worldviews. Unless these are made explicit, it is difficult to come to for those involved to understand each other let alone agree.
Consider, for example, the first case above: the sponsor’s worldview is likely based on his reality, perhaps a deadline imposed on him by his boss , whereas the report writer’s view is based on what she thinks is a reasonable time to create the reports requested.
Metaphorically, the two parties are not on the same page. Worse, they are not even reading the same book. The sponsor’s reality – his “book” – is based on an imposed deadline whereas the report writer’s is based on an estimate.
So, how does one get the two sides to understand each other’s point of view?
The metaphor gives us a clue – we have to first get them to understand that they are “reading from different books.” Only then do they have a hope in hell of understanding each other’s storylines.
This isn’t easy because people tend to believe their views are reasonable (even when they aren’t!). The only way to resolve these differences are through dialogue or collective deliberation. As I have written in my post on rational dialogue in project environments:
Someone recently mentioned to me that the problem in project meetings (and indeed any conversation) is that participants see their own positions as being rational, even when they are not. Consequently, they stick to their views, even when faced with evidence to the contrary. However, such folks aren’t being rational because they do not subject their positions and views to “trial by argumentation.” Rationality lies in dialogue, not in individual statements or positions. A productive discussion is one in which conflicting claims are debated until they converge on an optimal decision. The best (or most rational) position is one that emerges from such collective deliberation.
The point is a simple one: we have to get the two sides talking to each other, with each one accepting that their views may need to be revised in the light of the arguments presented by the other. Dialogue Mapping, which I have discussed in many posts on this blog is a great way to facilitate such dialogue.
In our forthcoming book entitled, The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, Paul Culmsee and I describe Dialogue Mapping and a host of other techniques that can help organisations tackle problems associated with people who are “not on the same page” or “reading different books.”
The book is currently in the second round of proofs. We’ll soon be putting up a website with excerpts, review comments, pricing, release dates and much more – stay tuned!