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The management of my company wants people to be positive all the time.

Don't complain, don't call out mistakes, don't criticise, be constructive.

In general this is OK, but I am being asked to discuss a project which almost failed because another team just wanted to block it: they were not in control, they would not help build the project, and they made excuses not to do anything. They stalled our project for six months saying they were working on something identical and confidential, but nothing was being done, they just wanted to stop us.

It's been a very negative experience. I am being asked about it. If I say "we were stalled" or "they were not collaborative" I will get a negative reaction.

But I don't know how to positively, constructively describe a situation where another colleague or team was hostile or not collaborative.

Question: how to communicate positively and constructively an event which was negative and destructive?

Edit: the most important case is being asked in a public forum/team discussion: "why didn't you collaborate with Team X on this?". If I reply "because they lied to us about doing the same just to stall us" or "they didn't want to collaborate" I will get negative reaction. I don't know how to reply to that.

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    "The management of my company wants people to be positive all the time." does that apply to 1:1 communications with your direct boss too, or only when speaking on more public/open forum? The latter seems reasonable and fair, the former seems misguided. – Tymoteusz Paul Oct 14 at 11:39
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    Do you have any paper trail of what happened? Like team exchange, meetings conclusion, what the other team promises then was not deliver because of <insert reason>. I often saw some successful coworkers elaborated on facts describing the engagement of the other teams/contractors, then facts describing each breach, then facts describing the consequence of each breach. Ending with a neutral tone: so, how do we improve our process? – Sebastien DErrico Oct 14 at 18:26
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    How is it this positive and constructive? "I will get a negative reaction." – usr1234567 Oct 14 at 20:09
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    one particular university in Texas says their "football team never loses, they just run out of time". How's that for positive spin? – NKCampbell Oct 14 at 21:23
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    "Don't criticize; be constructive" and "discuss a project that almost failed..." are polar opposites. If the project didn't fail, then what's the purpose of the discussion? And if it did fail, criticism is valid. – GalacticCowboy Oct 15 at 19:23

10 Answers 10

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the most important case is being asked in a public forum/team discussion: "why didn't you collaborate with Team X on this?".

If the situation is the way you have presented it here then the answer is easy: you did collaborate with them.

"We discussed the project with Team X, and as per this [email / ticket reference / instant message / whatever] we were told that the work was in progress and our help was not required".

No names, no negativity, no defensiveness, nothing but facts.

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    "nothing but facts" is the key here. OP presents several claims which, without further proof, are just conjecture. Assuming ill will on the other part without proof is likely to have bad repercussions for OP, not the other team. One way to avoid this in the future is understanding why the other team ended up not delivering. – l0b0 Oct 14 at 19:54
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    This is a good answer. You're either being asked about your team (which you can answer positively without issue) or their team (which you're the wrong person to ask in the first place). – Stop Being Evil Oct 14 at 23:15
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    This "nothing but facts" does not often go far. ( a ) It is difficult to prove most things. ( b ) Proving things logically does not mean it were proved in the minds of the decision makers. ( c ) Even if that does happen people can shrug it off. This company is just mismanaged. Negative actions and behaviors need prompt and clear handling. – StephenBoesch Oct 16 at 0:21
  • I like this, but it leads to questions like "Why didn't you verify that the work was done?" Sure, you can answer with "Why would I need to verify it if I was told by someone who's supposed to be reliable that the work was done?" There's a lot of politics that can still cause this Answer to not be good enough, such as the higher ups being convinced it's the OP's problem. Not to mention when the other team doesn't also comply with the "no negativity" rule. Of course, "no negativity" is negative towards negativity, so it's a self-disproving circular argument. – computercarguy Oct 16 at 20:02
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The simplest way to is to refrain from making assumptions, as your negative assumptions are going to flavour whatever reality exists.

For example, if you are asked: "Why didn't you collaborate with Team X on this?"

Instead of "because they lied to us about doing the same just to stall us" consider saying "I mentioned project X to person Y, and I the said they were doing the same, so I didn't think we needed to".

Instead of "they didn't want to collaborate" instead consider saying "When I suggested collaborating on project X, person Y said Z".

If you further want to soften your language, you need to introduce uncertainty in how you report actions of others. So say things like: "I believe" or "I think". It seems less directly confrontational than what would otherwise be outright accusations.

And that is not to say that you should be making accusations. You are merely signalling that your know your recollection or understanding of what you think are facts may not be correct.

When working with others, you certainly need to be neutral or positive in your language. When discussing things with your boss, you can certainly be most honest, but you should try to keep your assumptions to a minimum.

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    Actually I think the opposite is true: subjective language like "i believe" should be avoided. – BigMadAndy Oct 14 at 15:56
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    @BigMadAndy: "I believe X" isn't any more subjective than just "X"; it simply acknowledges that "X" is already subjective or uncertain. – ruakh Oct 14 at 21:14
  • @BigMadAndy according to this forbes article, protector words like "I think" should be avoided. As should "superior words" like "Actually" and "Obviously". – nonthevisor Oct 15 at 12:35
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    @nonthevisor The article is overly simplistic and comes from an approach where one would want to project power. I don't think it's suitable here. Protector words (“I think”, “Arguably”, etc.) should be used liberally when collaborating with others, as they enhance collaboration by showing that you are open to alternative interpretations. – Gregory Currie Oct 15 at 13:39
  • @GregoryCurrie very true, context makes a difference. – nonthevisor Oct 15 at 13:51
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how to communicate positively and constructively an event which was negative and destructive?

When asked to present on or discuss a project, you discuss the project, not the other team or other issues.

If you're tasked to discuss any issues or needed procedure changes that were discovered during the process then that is a different matter.

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That's a very good question and whereas I haven't found the ultimate solution yet, I think sticking to facts helps.

Don't make assumptions. Don't hypothesize about what happened.

Instead, say, when it is happening: "Person A isn't able to deliver according to our schedule. Whatever the reason is, if we wait any longer, the risk is the project will fail. The alternative is to get B to support us or employ a consultant to do it for us".

In your specific situation you should have escalated/ thought about an alternative solution earlier on. Criticizing someone afterwards is a bit too late. You can still mention "6 months delay on the part of the team C", but be prepared that your bosses may ask you: "What did you do to prevent it?".

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First, sit down with the other team lead to hear their side of the story. Find out what they think happened. This meeting should be one-on-one and informal.

Do not approach this meeting with preconceived notions like "They tried to block us". There is a good chance you will find that they had reasons for what they did.

Don't interrupt, don't contradict, just listen. Ask clarifying questions, not accusatory ones.

Be prepared to present your side too.

Then the two of you should find out what you can learn from this. Both of you. How can you avoid a repeat of this experience?

Later you can truthfully say that you have learned from this. You can explain what you have learned. You can talk about misunderstandings rather than conflicts.

Misunderstandings are not positive, but they are OK if you follow up with "We have learned that ..."

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"Working with team B is always a pleasure and fun. I fondly remember the time when they played a practical joke on us: For example, they claimed to be working on something identical to project C. We had such a good laugh when we found out about it six months later. It is always nice to face new challenges at work, and building project C from the ground up in the one month we had left was certainly a challenge! I rarely experienced so much personal growth in such a short period of time."

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    I would love to upvote this answer because it is hilarious and a perfect in your head response, but sadly not in real life. As I understand it, for SE only real answers should be upvoted. So I will leave this comment instead. – Damila Oct 14 at 19:46
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    "I rarely experienced so much personal growth in such a short period of time." <- I'll have to remember this one! – lambshaanxy Oct 15 at 2:09
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If your project was stalled by another team claiming to be doing the same thing, you must have done something else instead, right?

They stalled our project for six months saying they were working on something identical and confidential, but nothing was being done, they just wanted to stop us.

"We were relieved that our colleagues were already working on X, and left the success of X to their capable hands. As a result we were able to put all our productive resources toward developing the much-needed Y ..."

"why didn't you collaborate with Team Z on this?"

"After a brief period of initial collaboration, we received reports that Team Z started to make rapid internal progress on X, due to a surge in motivation and generation of ideas, and were keen on taking over the entire responsibility for the project. At around that point, we mutually recognized that project X would be best conducted under the locus of a single tightly collaborating team. We began to re-adjust our tasks, priorities and schedules around the Y project, and to hand off our remaining X activities to the Z team."

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"Their efforts to assist in the development of this project were second to none."

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The management of my company wants people to be positive all the time.

Don't complain, don't call out mistakes, don't criticise, be constructive

It's a huge red flag. They are not interesting in solving problems that normally the management solves. They don't care about the problem you have. They want you to pretend everything is great and solve the problem 'under the curtains'. They don't want to be bothered, or want to sell the pink picture to the shareholders, they want everything to seem OK.

how to communicate positively and constructively an event which was negative and destructive?

The problem is, they don't want to be bothered with such messages. They expect you to solve the problems, whatever it takes. It opens the playground for such politic plays as the second team has made. They can sabotage your projects, and shine while you fail. You are not allowed to complain anyway, so they can only win.

You have basically 2 options. Either you play the game, which means looking for the opportunity for the revenge and sabotage the 2nd team's project, or polish your CV and look for a better company to work for. I personally recommend you the 2nd option. The life is too short for wasting it on politics.

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  • It's not a red flag, it's a "don't blame and don't criticize people" kind of policy that allows better cooperation. i.e: If someone makes a mistake, instead of focusing on him, you accept that it happened and think about how it can be prevented. You avoid creating tension and alienating people. OP makes a lot of assumptions about why or how everything happened in the other team, if he were to talk the same way in his meeting and were wrong, it would ruin any hope of reparation or cooperation with the other team in the future. Moreover, the last part about revenge is completely absurd... – Echox Oct 16 at 9:31
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Just be constructive. Don't blame the other team to block you or not being cooperative. You have to phrase it in a positive way instead:

  • Please help us!
  • Please work with us! We could profit from a more cooperative relationship.
  • We could be far less delayed, if we would be able to work together with the other team. We should learn from this and improve this from now on.
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