Two companies merged and each continued to see and talk about the other predecessor in negative terms. The conversations in meetings stayed on the surface level and there was a sense of mistrust. Each perceived the other as not interested in collaborating but “winning” and desiring to be in charge. The senior leaders had been working on the merger for a longer time and failed to signal how they expected people to work together. In fact, the senior leaders joined in negative comments about the other company and demanded results. Just as it is challenging when people marry, it takes effort to integrate companies that have different mindsets and values.
How can we support more prosocial behavior and working with people who are “different” than us? Polarization and judgments often keep people from engaging and seeing each other as human.
A first step is to encourage perspective taking. Ask people to identify what something is like for a different party. “How do you think the other group is perceiving the situation?” It does not mean you have to agree or change things. “How do they find it working with the agreed system?” It is essential to give empathy and understanding to individuals. “It is painful to lose a system that you developed and know well, especially when you believe the new one lacks important aspects.” With dialogue and understanding, you can identify agreements that will work for both parties. For example, you can agree to change language to “we” and not refer to each other by the predecessor organizations.
Be kind to yourself. Notice your tendency to judge the other and focus on taking their perspective. Imagine how you might perceive things and your related emotions. Focus on being open and listening.