If you bring together intelligent people who care about their jobs, sooner or later they will disagree. What they disagree upon may be the procedure, course, manual or textbook you are writing.
If you want your work to go out into the world and be helpful, you need to know how to ease people towards compromise. Here are a few simple strategies you can try the next time there is a disagreement related to content you’re responsible for writing.
1. Review the intended audience, purpose and scope
As part of the document plan, you worked with the document team to define the audience, purpose and scope. Those three elements help everyone stay clear on what the document is supposed to achieve. Before going into disagreements, make sure everyone remembers the intended audience, purpose and scope of the document. Often a disagreement centres around a misunderstanding related to one of those things.
If you created your document plan carefully and made sure it was signed by management, changes in audience, purpose or scope will not be undertaken lightly. They can happen even amongst the best managed teams. I’m not suggesting they don’t, but they can usually be avoided by reaching strong consensus at the planning stage.
2. Listen to understand
Even if you feel passionately, your job as the business writer is to facilitate communication. Keep a level head and remain objective. Before anything else, listen. Let me say that again: listen. And don’t stop there. Repeat what you believe was said, being as specific as possible, and asking for clarification if it is needed.
3. Draw out all points of view
Make sure that all points of view are covered to the same depth. Ask probing questions. Focus discussion on one point of view at a time. Don’t let the conversation turn into a free-for-all. People will appreciate the guidance and will value a calm discussion. More importantly, resolution will be more likely if everyone stays focused and moves forward one step at a time.
4. Point out areas of agreement and disagreement
Sometimes people don’t see how similar their point of view is to someone else’s. In the heat of their concern, they may have trouble seeing the consensus that is already there. As the business writer, you can help them see both areas of agreement and disagreement. Be as specific as you can and open the floor for clarification.
5. Focus on the future, not the past
A heated discussion may be fueled by things that happened in past. People naturally look to prevent mistakes from reoccurring. They also want to see what they perceive as unfairness addressed. A document, especially one that is shared throughout the organization, can become the focal point for years of dissatisfaction. As the business writer, you can help by reminding everyone that the document is about how the organization plans to move forward.
6. Brainstorm solutions
Try to keep the conversation moving when you reach the stage of looking for solutions. Draw out people who have not contributed as much. Often the quieter people are the deep thinkers. Don’t overlook their contributions.
7. End with agreed upon actions
There may be areas that need further investigation or discussion, but don’t stop with those. Help everyone see the value in the discussion by focusing on areas of agreement.
Reaching compromise is never easy, especially if you are working with intelligent people who care about their job. I hope that you find these strategies helpful. Please let me know how that goes. I’m sure everyone reading this blog would welcome your ideas on how to reach compromise when developing business documents.
©Debbie Bateman 2019. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.
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