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Every Conflict Comes From a Gap in Expectations

Every conflict can be traced back to a gap in expectations. Every single one. Every time. I normally don’t make such definitive statements, but in this case, I am convinced.

Every time I have ever had a dispute with someone, whether it was with my wife over who ate the last of the ice cream, or with a coworker about how a project should be completed, the root of the disagreement was that the expectations were not aligned.

It makes sense when you think about it. If all parties had the same expectation, regardless of whether the outcome of an event was positive or negative, both sides would be in it together. When people expect different outcomes, though, behaviors disappoint.

The problem is that expectations come from a variety of inputs. Consider the act of merging onto a highway from a busy on-ramp. You are more likely to see birds flying there than in Capistrano. But the law is clear on who has the right of way. How could there possibly ever be a disagreement?

Well, it is because the interpretation of the events are different. One driver may have thought there was room to merge. The person who felt that there wasn’t had a different interpretation, which made his expectation—that the first motorist slow down—different than his own.

The same thing happens with Lean. Whether the difference in expectation is regarding an improvement goal, how many minutes an hour should be spent working, or what a reasonable pace is, if the two sides see things differently, there is going to be a rift.

So, to align expectations:

  1. Communicate. Be clear about the expectations.
  2. Communicate. It’s pretty important, so I am listing it twice. Even if you don’t think something needs to be discussed, bring it up anyway.
  3. Get agreement. Once you communicate, make sure everyone sees things the same way.
  4. Cultivate trust. This isn’t a step as much as it is a prerequisite. If there is no trust, buy-in will be coerced for fear of sanctions.
  5. Assess. Make sure you see things the same way as other people. This means talking about progress and how you are measuring, and make sure expectations are still being met.

This is particularly important when setting goals in a kaizen event. I’d be interested in hearing your comments about how you have gone about getting buy in for a particularly controversial project.

On a separate topic, I am in the process of adding live online training to my bag of tricks. I’ve got a growing list of classes, and want to offer more flexible ways of delivering the information. I am offering a free webinar as a ‘shakedown cruise’ to iron out my processes. The first class is based on one of my more popular blog posts from a while back about lessons I learned from Japanese consultants I worked with over the years. Register here if you are interested. It is scheduled for 10:00 Pacific time on September 28, 2010. I hope you can attend.


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