Is It Snowing in Your Country?

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Helio Fred Garcia Raleigh Mayer | Bio | Posts
5 Oct 2014 | 9:17AM

One autumn a dozen years ago, when my daughter was about four years old, she was thrilled by an early snowfall. She immediately phoned my mother, who lived just across town, to share her excitement.

“Grammy”, she asked, “is it snowing in your country?”.

Naturally my mother, only one zip code away, was highly amused by the question, and with each winter precipitation our family repeats the punchline.

Kids do say the darndest things, yet there is also a larger leadership lesson here: To consider the other person’s environment — psychologically and intellectually, as well as physically — before assuming their point of view or experience is aligned with yours.

Professor Amy C. Edmondson, The Novartis chair of Management and Leadership at Harvard Business School, explores the concept, known as testing assumptions, in her book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.

“Many conflicts arise from personal differences in values or interests but are presented as professional differences in opinion”, says Edmonson. And that can lead to misunderstandings at best (‘Snow? What snow?’) or, more typically, conflict. Edmondson elaborates, “As often happens, especially in ambiguous situations, conflicting interpretations of the same facts are used to fuel conflicting truths.”

Many of my coaching clients find that when they reframe their perspective on business behaviors through the lens of anthropological study, rather than personal reaction, they not only learn more about the other party’s approach; they also become more sympathetic to opposing views, and a good deal less emotional in managing differences.

One way to do this, as Edmondson describes in her book, is to model effective communication: “Good communication when confronting conflict, especially heated conflict, combines thoughtful statements with thoughtful questions, so as to allow people to understand the true basis of a disagreement and to identify the rationale behind each position.”

Is it snowing in your country?

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