Sunday, October 21, 2012

He's So Wrong!

 “So was I right or was I right?”

Peter Pompel gestured to a chair for Tyler Gitou to sit down. “Isn’t Frances Forte the most emotional and challenging executive you’ve ever encountered?” Peter asked.

Tyler paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.

Tyler had met with Frances Forte, the COO of a large manufacturing company, at Peter’s request. Peter and his Tech Team colleagues had been hired by Frances to install a new finance and accounting system. Peter called Tyler for advice because Peter thought Frances was overly emotional, which made communication difficult. (See: “She’s So Emotional!”)

Tyler met with Frances and found her to be a calm and reasonable businesswoman. The problem was with Peter: he did not understand how his own communication strategy was actually frustrating Frances and causing her to seem “emotional”.  (See: “She’s So Logical!”)

Tyler now had the challenge of telling Peter that he needed to adjust his behavior, not Frances.

“Actually, Peter, Frances is a pretty direct and balanced businesswoman. From my conversation with her I think you are the victim of a misperception.”

Peter sat back in his chair. “Really?” he asked. “Are we talking about the same person? This is the woman who I told you gets upset when I tell her everything is going well. She accuses me of hiding information. Sometimes it borders on her questioning my ethics!”

Tyler raised a hand to calm him. “Peter let me ask you a question. Is everything going perfectly?”

Peter shrugged. “Well, no, of course not. There are always issues in these types of projects. But we get them resolved.”

“I understand. Do you convey those issues to Frances? Tell her where you are facing challenges and solving the problems?”

Peter laughed. “Oh goodness no! The last team we had in here struggled and Frances ordered them off the premises! That’s when they brought me in here. I’m not going to let her think that we aren’t doing our job well. She’ll get all riled up and get me fired.”

“So you are concerned that if she knew there were delivery problems, even though you solve them, she would perceive you as failing in the engagement?” Tyler asked.

“All I know is the last team got thrown out for poor performance. I am not going to let that happen to me.” Peter folded his arms across his chest.

“Did you know that Frances championed Tech Team in the bidding process because she thought you were the right company for the job and she basically put her career on the line for you?”

Peter relaxed. “Really? No I didn’t. Frankly I had wondered how we won a deal of this size.”

“So she has a vested interest in making sure you succeed,” Tyler said. “If she throws out your team, she’s finished. Your destiny and hers are tied together.”

“That explains why she is so focused on what we are doing,” Peter said.

“When you do run into problems, who on her team do you work with?” Tyler asked.

“Our direct contact is Michael, who reports into Frances.”

“So Michael knows there have been issues which are getting resolved?”

Peter nodded. “Absolutely.”

“Don’t you think Michael tells Frances about those issues? Or do you think he is telling her everything is going off without a hitch?” Tyler asked.

“No. He understands that we are ultimately going to succeed here, but I guess he probably keeps her up to speed on how we are progressing.”

“So put yourself in Frances’s shoes,” Tyler said. “You advocated for a company that failed on the first try. Your career is at stake. The new team keeps telling you everything is going well, but your own people are reporting issues every week, though they eventually get resolved. What would you think of a team that is not being open about the challenges on the program?”

Peter thought for a moment. “I suppose I would not trust that team because it feels like they are hiding something.”

“And as the deadline for completion draws near?”

“I probably would get frustrated every time I heard that ‘all was well’ because I knew it was not,” Peter said.

“Exactly,” Tyler said. “Your perception of Frances as an emotional executive came from her frustration with your behavior. While trying to protect your company by trying to make her think you were not encountering any problems, you actually created an environment of distrust with her because she thought you were hiding something. Couple that with her stress because of her personal interest in the success of the program, which you did not know about, it’s no wonder you had a misconception about her.”

Peter shook his head. “That’s great insight, Tyler. Thanks. So what do I do now?”

“Open up to her about the program. Have a meeting with her and Michael every Tuesday and Thursday and provide her updates, warts and all, and what the plans are to resolve the warts. She knows there will be problems. What you need to do is demonstrate to her you are anticipating and remedying those problems to limit the risks to the program’s success. You will find her demeanor will change. A Deal Whisperer tries to be open and transparent with the other party so that both sides will share challenges and collaborate to solve them. That builds trust and lasting relationships.”   


  1. Why on earth would the DW recommend a weekly meeting whenn the customer had requested a bi-weekly meeting?

  2. Hilary: Great catch, thank you! Imagine how frustrating that would be to Frances if Peter came back and said he would meet only once a week.

    It reminds me of a story my friend told me about an error her editor caught before her novel was published. One character had a habit of saying to his nervous wife, "Don't worry honey, I'll be back sure as my eyes are blue." My friend forgot that she had earlier described the character as having brown eyes, so it would have seemed to the reader that he was torturing his wife with that departing remark.

  3. Sorry - this is not a male / female perception issue. Replace the comment "She's so emotional" with "He's so illogical" and you would have the same story. The underlying issue is about communication and understanding. Understand the drivers for your key stakeholders, and maintain honest, open, proactive lines of communication, and you are much more likely to have successful outcomes.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Suzi. What I wanted to show through the series of articles was how understanding the other side's perspective can reveal great misperception. This, as are all of my posts, is based on a actual encounter I had with a client (female) where I coached the delivery lead (male) that it was his behavior that was frustrating her. Studies show that women are often painted with the label of "emotional" in challenging business situations. My own experience has not found either gender to be more or less "emotional" than the other.