Dividing the Workload

Left unaddressed, issues such as fairly divvying up workplace tasks can fester and worsen. The solution lies in a conversation that features active listening and a willingness to be open to others’ perspectives.

Q. In meetings, my colleague and I discuss the tasks that need to be completed for various clients. Somehow, when it comes to figuring out who will do the tasks, they seem to fall disproportionately on me. She claims she’s “super busy,” and I’m sure she is, but I am, too! How do I make sure tasks are divided more evenly?

A: While it can be tempting simply to ignore the issue and avoid a tough conversation, that rarely solves the problem. Left unaddressed, these types of issues can fester and worsen, making them even harder to discuss constructively. So first, schedule a conversation with your colleague.

Before sitting down with her, try to consider how she might be experiencing the situation—be open to the idea that there might be more than one way of looking at things. Try to attribute favorable qualities and motivations to your colleague. For example, perhaps she is working on some difficult assignments you don’t know about.

When you have the conversation, try to uncover things you might not have been aware of or considered. Implement your active listening skills. And, again, remind yourself to remain open to a perspective that is different from your own.

Frame your own thoughts as one of several possible perspectives, rather than as an absolute truth. After all, you might not have all of the in formation you need to form an unbiased opinion. Moreover, you want your colleague to consider your side of the story. In order for that to happen, you must demonstrate your willingness to consider hers.

Use a phrase such as “I’d like to share my point of view on.. to convey your understanding that your colleague’s point of view may be different from your own. Manage that transition to her perspective with something along the lines of: “That’s my perspective. How do you see things?” By proactively soliciting your colleague’s input, you will reinforce the notion that you are open to discussion and dialogue.

From this point forward, make sure you spend a significant portion of the conversation listening to what your colleague has to say—she should talk as much as you do. This might be easier said than done, since she is likely to present ideas with which you vehemently disagree. Nevertheless, a productive conversation can only happen when both parties listen to each other. You certainly want your colleague to take in your perspective. The corollary is that you not only must extend the same courtesy, but it’s likely you’ll have to lead by example.

Once both of your perspectives are on the table, you can work together to quantify and divide the workload as objectively as possible. Try to remain open to your colleague’s opinions on this and use independent benchmarks to address differences in perspective.

Remember, considering your colleague’s perspective does not necessarily mean you will agree with it or concede in the end. But by keeping an open mind, acknowledging that your perspective is not the only way of interpreting the situation, and creating an environment for your colleague to share her thoughts, you can have constructive conversations about even the most sensitive and emotional topics.

Michael Rosenthal is managing partner of Consensus (www.consensusgroup.com), a negotiation and conflict resolution firm headquartered in New York and with regional offices in the Middle East that offers an array of services through three practice areas: Consulting, Training & Development, and Peace Building. For more information, contact mrosenthal@consensusgroup.com.

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