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Lead Your Team Leadership

My Big, Fat Vietnamese Lesson in Leadership

married, love, wedding Credit: Marriage image via Shutterstock

In my "Mind Your Business" column I try to bring you a unique entrepreneurial perspective on the sometimes strange world of academic research.

Been looking for a way to get everyone in your company on the same page? Lord knows it’s not always easy — because despite what they say, what’s good for the goose (or the sales team or the IT department) isn’t necessarily always good for the gander.

Interestingly, researchers who studied the way some Vietnamese couples planned their weddings may have discovered one trick for finding ways to please most of the people some of the time.

In their research, Thuc-Doan Nguyen, of California State University, Long Beach, and Russell Belk of York University, suggest that the key to getting everyone on the same page when working together is to make other people see the personal benefits of compromise. Easier said than done, I know.

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Your Co-Workers?]

In the weddings these researchers studied, they found instances of the bride's and groom's families disagreeing about what the bride would wear, what color the invitations would be and even what to serve for dessert.

In each case, a discussion between families about why each side felt the way they did allowed the parties to compromise in ways that made both sides happy. The result wasn’t just that both sides got at least part of what they wanted but that both families felt better after negotiating a compromise than they might have if they’d just gotten their own way from the beginning.

Sounds like a good place to start the next time you’ve got two departments that are having trouble getting along. Nguyen said the key is that each group will feel better about the situation after having heard the other side’s position.

“What surprised us the most is people are happy and proud of the way they solve their problems and the consequences,” Nguyen told me in an email interview. “There might be anger, anxiety, frustration at the beginning. However, when people successfully went through harmonization process, they feel happy, connected to others and proud of the results they got.”

Nguyen said she believes there are lessons to be taken learned by leaders trying to get people on the same page.

“There are lessons for other groups such as employers who might need to do what is best for them, but find ways to make it also work for their employees,” she said.

She compared the process of communicating and negotiating toward a common goal as similar to musicians playing in an orchestra.

“Everyone has his or her own instrument, but they must coordinate and adjust to blend into the group performance,” she said.

So why did she decide to study weddings, of all things?

“The wedding is a unique context … to solve the conflicts since it involves many people and there are lots of decisions to make,” she said.

In most of the wedding scenarios Nguyen and Belk studied, compromises were often the result of getting a better understanding of why issues were important to each family. Rather than thinking their future in-laws were trying to be controlling, the soon-to-be bride and groom discovered that their requests were, in fact, based on deep-seated feelings and traditions.

Recognizing that making a compromise wasn’t about ceding power — but rather, about working together — seemed to make it easier.

It’s the same sort of thing that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in a power struggle at work. You never know —  you might just end up living happily ever after. 

This story originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.

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