When we walked out of the project meeting, I thought I had never seen two men act more barbarically. Then, I had been in business for over twenty years. These were two Directors, both younger (in their 30’s) and well schooled, but on two different paths within one business unit.
The conversation went something like this. My technology is better than your technology. No it isn’t, my technology is going farther than your technology. No it isn’t, and a bigger VP likes me more than you. Well, I have more people working for me than you do.
Okay so that wasn’t the actual dialogue but think puffed out chests. Think spit coming from their mouths as they talk. And think ten other people in the room that all had to watch since the VP who called the meeting wasn’t there yet and we were outranked. I wasn’t, sadly, running the meeting to get them back on task.
I have little tolerance for this behavior. Actually I have very little tolerance for people who waste other people’s time, especially mine. And puffery really never belongs. But there I was watching this. What does someone of lower rank do? Speak up? Call them on their junior high behavior? Ask them to get back to the agenda?
In thinking back, the puffery started when the VP wasn’t there and was going to be late. The two of them had to equitably decide who would move the project forward. Well, neither person had the entire project. And neither person was going to let the other take the meeting well in that you know, the one running the meeting is the one with the power. Right? Right… So we all had to watch as the two of them unfolded.
So what could we do? I asked about the agenda. I didn’t get attention off them. So, I got up to walk away. I was really unclear on whether I was committing career suicide but I couldn’t bear the humiliation they were hoisting upon themselves.
A lot of people froze, some fueled the “debate” and some pretended there was something very interesting on their blackberry.
Kerry Patterson and his friends who wrote “Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations” suggests that when there is an opposing viewpoint, high emotions, and the stakes are high, you get a chance to utilize skills of conflict management and more importantly self management. They talk about the continuum going from Silence to Violence. And everyone in the room was swinging in the middle of that continuum. People use their comfortable style that worked for them growing up. Where do you go? Does it depend on the content? The people in the room? How highly they are ranked?
Know your style and you can prepare for stupid human behavior. Attached, you’ll find a one sheet on the book. In the book, there is a questionnaire that you can take to find out your style.
Oh… and the two businessmen? They’re both VP’s at competing companies. So obviously that kind of behavior doesn’t hold you back. Or does it?