Sage advice

Napolean Wrasse - Uploaded on November 30, 2007 by Michael Aston
Napolean Wrasse - Uploaded on November 30, 2007 by Michael Aston

What one piece of advice would you pass on?

A significant part of what we at jbsh get up to is building partnerships. These partnerships involve businesses, Universities, Primary Care Trusts, consultants (business & medical), doctors (academic & medical), private individuals, etc. With so many people there are always differing perceptions about what the collaboration is trying to achieve, and plenty of opportunity for miscommunication.

In my early days of change implementation with small engineering companies in Cornwall, I was given some sage advice by my PhD supervisor:

Don’t ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to ignorance

I believe the quote to have originally been from Napoleon Bonaparte though I can’t find a definitive reference.

Its very easy when you’re charging into a situation to assume that everyone knows everything you do and has the same ambition you do. This is never the case. If you’re not prepared for it, genuine cock-ups can sometime appear to be carefully planned Machiavellian schemes to bring about your professional and personal downfall.

I try to assume that people are acting with good intentions, trying to help me succeed as I try to help them. When things don’t work out its probably because I haven’t explained things well enough or they’re acting on information I’m not aware of.

The solution is of course better communication. Better doesn’t always mean more, a 5 min phone call is usually more productive than several pages of email or “briefing” document; half an hour over coffee, or a beer, is often better than 4 hours in a stuffy meeting room. Spending the time to see someone on their territory is often better than dragging them halfway across the city/country/world.

When you have done the ground work with short, concise messages specific to each party to build shared understanding, then you can hold a larger meeting where everyone can discover that actually they are working to an agreed agenda. You’ll also know where people’s corporate and individual comfort zones are and can help a consensus emerge that still achieves the broad aims.

Of course, sometimes people do act in the short term against what might be broadly considered as ‘fair play’. However, in this world of instant, always on, communications and data overload, we are more reliant than ever before on trusted advisers and connectors.

A reputation is something you build over a lifetime, but throw away in an instant.

That’s another piece of advice for free! 🙂

Thanks to Plinky again for prompting me again.

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