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Productive Interactions


The process of productive interactions, adapted from Jack Sherwood, offers a remarkable way to strengthen relationships in various scenarios. Effective in addressing alignment issues between individuals, groups, or departments, it proves valuable for resolving specific tensions or incidents, especially among high-level executives. The setup involves printing memo and agreement sheets, emphasizing physical copies for participants. Conducted in a private space, preferably neutral, the process is facilitated with a nominated champion in a triangle formation. Lasting one to two hours, the exchange process revolves around factual memos answering key questions, promoting understanding without immediate discussion. The outcome includes written agreements and a follow-up meeting, fostering improved collaboration and relationships. Consider incorporating this process into professional or personal interactions for enhanced outcomes.

Video Transcript

The productive interactions process. This is a truly wonderful way to enhance the working relationship between two individuals or groups or departments. It’s my adaptation from my old friend and colleague Jack Sherwood. Use this in three different kinds of situations. First of all, whenever there are two people or two groups or two departments where things are not going exactly as they could, and it’s almost all the time. So actually, you could almost do this between any two groups or any two people that work together on a regular basis almost any time and have something good happen. Secondly, you want to use it whenever pinches occur, whenever something happened, like there was a trigger incident or something is continuing to happen between two people or between two groups, like a late delivery or some reports not coming in on time, or two individuals, especially at the top of an organization that have issues, things that are not working between them. It’s really useful in that situation. And then finally, I think it’s good to do periodically between two people or between two groups that interact on a regular basis. When I had my consulting firm and a small staff, I used to do this every couple of months with my executive assistant because over time, there are always little things I would say, “Okay, we need to have a productive interactions conversation.”

And she would say, “Great, let’s go.” And we would do it. And every time, it produced an insight on her part or my part or our part for what we could do to improve the way we work together. Here’s the setup. You want to have print copies of them. They’re going to be two sheets of paper. There’s one called the memo. And then there’s the agreement. As you’ll see coming up. You can print these. You can see on the website where to go to print these. You want to make sure that everybody in the room has a physical copy of this. It works. I know it’s electronic. Sounds great. It’s one piece of paper for each person or each group. It’s worth it. I think in the long run, you want to do this in a private space where you have a door. Like if you’re in an open space environment, try to find a place that where you can close it off and have at least a private conversation. If it’s two people doing this, you can do this in a small room. I recommend not doing it in one of the party’s offices. It should be in a neutral place, just so that creates more of a safe place. And if you have two groups doing this, it can happen in one room, but the room needs to be large enough for the two groups to pull away from each other, to have a conversation with themselves, as you’ll see as I explain the process.

Now, when I’m doing this with groups, I ask each group to nominate or name a champion, someone they will send out to actually represent them in the conversation. So I’m still only facilitating a conversation between two people. And I usually, whether it’s individuals or with groups, I like to sit in a triangle. So the two people are sitting where they can see each other, and I’m sitting kind of between them where I can see the three. So we’re in a triangle. And my job as a facilitator is simply to make sure that that conversation happens. It’s very simple. Help them follow the process. You can have someone from inside the organization who’s not a part of those two groups and not a boss of the two people to facilitate that process. I think once you’ve learned it, if it’s just between two people, one hour should be enough. But when you’re just starting this process, even between two people, an hour and a half is a minimum. If it’s two groups, an hour and a half to two hours is probably about right. I really think it helps to have a neutral facilitator there just to make sure that that it doesn’t turn into an argument but continues to be a mutual search, a mutual exploration for how, what kind of things can we agree to do in the future that will enable us to work better together? That’s the whole concept.

Now. Step one is I like to set the context for this, and I usually say, “Okay, why are we having this meeting? What’s been the trigger? What’s happened.” That’s the only time we talk about the past and it’s over with in a heartbeat. I like to do the pinch theory very, very quickly. If you haven’t seen the pinch theory, if you don’t know what it is, find it on this series and the Wiser at Work series and watch it. Either show the video or get up to the flipchart and do it. I do this at the beginning because it explains that in any effective relationship between two people at home or at work, it’s impossible for both parties to always. Give the other party exactly what’s needed at exactly the right time and exactly the right conditions. So it means that pinches are going to occur. Little things that happen that are indicators that there’s something not right in the way that we’re working together. So this becomes a safe kind of thing to talk about pinches rather than this huge roaring conflict that might have happened in the past.

So we’re just talking about the pinch theory as a way of saying, now let’s go forward in the future with this. I like to say, “Look, this is a safe space for honest interaction. It’s time to get real with each other so that we can true up, true up our relationship. The objective here is to create together a working relationship that gets us better results and less disruption, less disruptive conflict.” Now step two writing the memos. Now it’s much more than just writing a memo. It’s actually thinking about about us. And the other, if it’s two people thinking about myself and the other person that I’m working with, each person or each group prepares the memo for the other person or the other group. So initially, if it’s two people, they just sit quietly, and they take a few minutes to fill out the memo. As you’ll see as we go through it, it may take ten minutes, 15 minutes, something like that. Then I tell them, tell the truth. You know, when you write these things, be factual. Don’t make inferences or blame or anything. Just be factual. And third, show your willingness to go beyond the past by telling the truth and being open to what goes down on question four. And you’ll see in a minute why that’s so important.

Then the memo itself. It’s very simple. If you’ve printed it now and you’re looking at it, you see what’s on it. Question number four I actually start this process at the bottom, even though they may fill it out from top to bottom when they start interacting with each other. As you’ll see, they start with question four. And question four says, “I believe that you’re going to have the following things on your memo. For me, this is the kind of thing you’re going to be asking me or asking us about. Question number three says, “Boy, you’re doing these things just right. Really works, really helps us keep doing it.” So that’s the good stuff. Question number two says, “You know, we could do better. I think if you did these things less or less often.” And question one is, “I think we could do this our job better if you did these things more often.” So those are the questions. It’s a conversation with another person or another group. “I’d love it if you did these things more often, less often. I love how you’re doing these, and these are some of the things I think you’re going to complain about or want from us.” Very simple, very powerful process. Now, this is how the actual exchange happens. So this represents either person A or group A, and group B or person B.

Remember these two entities. So A represents one person or group B represents the other. First thing that happens is once they filled out their memos is that A reads their number four to B. So let’s say the two champions are out between the groups. Champion A says, “These are some of the things that we think you’re going to probably want to say to us.” And then at that point, person B just smiles. They don’t say anything at all. They just smile. I treat it lightly, just smile. Then A goes to their number three and they say, “These are some things your guys are doing great. You’re doing fabulous. Keep doing it.” At this point, I invite person B to paraphrase what A has said to their satisfaction. So B might say, “Okay, if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is that you really like the way we get you this report every Friday at 4:00, is that right?” Yes. Okay. And you also like this. So paraphrase each 1 to 2, the other person’s satisfaction. And then you do the same thing with number two and number one. Because now we’re getting into requests for change. “We’d love it if you did these things less often,” and B paraphrases, “You’d like us to do these things less often, no argument. There’s no defensiveness. There’s not like, ‘Well, let me tell you why we can’t do that or anything.'”

You’re just right now you’re just listening 110% to each other. And there’s no discussion yet. You’re just after understanding. You want A to understand, to communicate, to be fully so that B fully understands what it is that A is saying, okay, now once that’s complete you flip it, and B does the same process with A, B says, “Okay, here’s what we thought you were going to have to say to us, hey, we didn’t do too bad. Three these are some things that you’re doing great. Keep doing them. Then number two and number one, we’d like this less often. We’d like this more often.” Again, no discussion yet. Just understanding what’s on the sheet of paper. Now at this point I like to have the if it’s a group thing, two groups. I like to allow the groups to go off then and think about, “Okay, what can we agree to.” And you’ll see in a minute, I’m inviting them to think of three different levels of agreement. What I call an A on here is we can do these immediately. Consider it done. A B is maybe and we’ll talk more and see is no way you’ll see how that works. So if it’s two individuals then they can have a conversation with each other. Well, we’d like to do this.

But here’s the reason we can’t. And your job as a facilitator is just to make sure it doesn’t get into a rehashing of the past, but more like looking ahead in the future. How are we going to work together here? How are we going to? What can we agree to that will help us move forward together into the future? They, A and B now discuss what was requested and they listen to each other 110%. And they’re looking for what we can agree to remember. The A’s are we can do this immediately. Done. B we might be able to do this. We need to talk a little more and see there is no way we’re going to be able to agree to this. And let me explain why. So right away you’ve, you’ve you’ve always almost always I’ve never had this conversation when there wasn’t at least one. A we can agree to this immediately. So you’ve already improved the relationship going forward into the future. These agreements get written down on a piece of paper. A agrees to do this with a by when and who’s the single person or single point of accountability that’s going to make sure it happens. This could be a group that agrees to do this or the individual and B agrees to do this with, with, by, when and a single point of accountability. So these agreements are getting written down.

So there’s an actual record of this. Why I like to use actual hard copy. Now, even more important than what gets agreed to in this particular productive interactions process is this step right here. This is probably the most important part of this memo. And it says, “Let’s meet again on or before this date in the future to take a time out and look and see how our agreements are working, which ones need to be modified? G you guys said you were going to do this, but it’s not happening. Help me understand what’s going wrong or you know, remember that one we said we might be able to do? We think we can now or something like that. So you’re getting together to find out what’s working and what’s not working. And then two people sign these representatives of the groups or the two individuals. That’s the productive interactions process. I’ve done this with ten groups in a room, each sending out champions to have conversations with representatives from the other groups. Complicated, but it worked extremely well. Ask the guys from Ace Hardware about that one. So. Who do you have a relationship with that you’d like to have more productive or more mutually successful kind of interactions with? Who is that in your world, and when would be a good time to start on that? Like maybe now.

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