Solving a Misunderstanding

meetingIf you have ever dealt with another person in your life, you have had a misunderstanding.  Things like cream in your coffee instead of black or who forgot to set the alarm when you leave your house are issues that can be very easily handled and, after a quick remedy, are put behind you.

When a misunderstanding happens at work, however, they tend to blow up bigger than they really are.  Things like forgetting to send a package or returning a call can become huge issues.  Tempers escalate even further when a shipment to a customer is messed up and no one is notified or a report is run with outdated data and huge projects are based on that report.

As a leader, you need to know how to diffuse both types of issues because they affect your team’s performance and their trust in each other.   In order to lead through the fall-out from misunderstandings, you need to:

  1. Create a culture of accountability.  Many times mistakes and misunderstandings occur when there is a lack of control over a project or task.  People need to know what they are expected to do every day and that they will be held responsible if their tasks are not done properly.   A leader has to own your (or your team’s) mistakes.  The buck has to stop with you and you need to recognize when mistakes are made by your team or you and accept the consequences.  You cannot blame others for your team’s issues.
  2. Communicate with your team and key contributors.  Misunderstandings and hurt feelings usually occur because of poor communication.  Keep your team and the other people that you need to be successful informed on changes, decisions, and other issues that may cause problems.
  3. Empower your team to solve their issues professionally without you getting involved.  Having mom or dad solve the issue usually causes more hurt feelings.  This is especially true when a leader has to mediate between team members.  The one that “won” is smug and the one that “lost” is demotivated.  Let them try to solve their own issues before getting involved.
  4. Keep HR in the loop.  Human Resources is a leader’s best friend during misunderstandings.  They know whether the issue is a job related mistake versus harassment.  HR also can help sensitize your team to avoid issues altogether.  Telling someone you like their sweater may be a nice compliment but it also can be construed as an advance.  Make sure your team knows how your company wants employees to interact with each other.

As with most of my articles, these are pretty simple on the surface policies to enact.  However, it takes a dedicated and determined leader to stick to these principles- especially when someone books you to go to St. Louis, MI instead of St. Louis Park, MN.

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