Engineers are not world famous for having long and deep conversations at work!
But maybe they should talk a little bit more – or at least ask more questions exploring the untold narratives behind the people they work with in order to resolve conflicts or avoid professional disagreements to become critical to project quality, deadlines and work environment.
March 3, I was invited by the The Engineer’s Union Leader Forum, together with Stig Geer Pedersen – the co author of my book ‘Narrative Leadership: Change through Questions and Narratives‘, to give a workshop on conflict resolution using the narrative approach – a very ‘soft science’ compared to the usual project plans, product roads maps, Gantt charts and status meetings that leaders with engineering backgrounds are very familiar with.
The workshop lasted 3 hours and approximately 35 leaders with engineer background participated. The task was to address conflict resolution and handling of critique:
- in a strategic leadership perspective
- in normal work situations
- with highly skilled and well functioning employees
Some of the interview exercises revolved around questions exploring the narratives of the human being behind the professional title of a ‘leader’:
- What’s the story of how you became a leader?
- What special experiences from your professional or private background do you use as a leader?
- And with what effect?
Conflict as a narrative
Other exercises introduced a whole series of questions that explore a problem or conflict as a narrative with a beginning, a middle and a possible ending:
- What happened ….what is the problem?
- When did ….. start?
- What did you do? What did …. do?
- Who else was involved in …?
- Say a little more about …..?
- What did you try to uptain by …..?
- What did they try to uptain by ….?
- What would be the best possible solution to …..?
Externalization through counter-questions
Finally, we did introduced an exercise in Barnett Pierce’s concept of verbal externalization when dealing with criticism – of yourself or of others – by asking counter-questions like:
- What would you call the core of this problem? (Naming)
- What are the effects of ….NAME….? To you? To others?
- What point of view does the other parties have in the matter?
- What solutions can we make?
With regard to Barnett Pierce’s motto: The person is not the problem – the problem is the problem, try to avoid to jump to the assessment of who made a mistake and what is right and wrong in the matter.
- Keep … [don’t change what is actually working well]
- More of …. [could hold personal critique, but is easier to handle since it is externalized]
- Less of … [could hold personal critique, but is easier to handle since it is externalized]
Have the participants ‘buzz’ in smaller groups for 5 minutes.
Take a round where all groups mention their notes for all three headlines.
Make sure that critical comments are rephrased to externalized wordings without names and personal critique.