Communication in Organizations
Communication in Organizations Heading Off a Permanent Misunderstanding Mindy Martin was no longer speaking to Al Sharp. She had been wary of him since her first day at Alton Products; he had always seemeddistant and aloof. She thought at first that he resented her MBA degree, her fast rise in the company, or her sense of purpose and ambition. But she was determined to get along with everyone in the office, so she had taken him out to lunch, praised his work whenever she could, and even kept track of his son’s Little League feats. But all that ended with the appointment of the new Midwest marketing director.
Martin had had her sights on the job and thought her chances were good. She was competing with three other managers on her level. Sharp was not in the running because he did not have a graduate degree, but his voice was thought to carry a lot of weight with the top brass. Martin had less seniority than any of her competitors, but her division had become the leader in the company, and upper management had praised her lavishly. She believed that with a good recommendation from Sharp, she would get the job. But Walt Murdoch received the promotion and moved to Topeka. Martin was devastated. It was bad enough that she did not get the promotion, but she could not stand the fact that Murdoch had been chosen.
She and Al Sharp had taken to calling Murdoch “Mr. Intolerable” because neither of them could stand his pompous arrogance. She felt that his being chosen was an insult to her; it made her rethink her entire career. When the grapevine confirmed her suspicion that Al Sharp had strongly influenced the decision, she determined to reduce her interaction with Sharp to a bare minimum. Relations in the office were very chilly for almost a month. Sharp soon gave up trying to get back in Martin’s favor, and they began communicating only in short, unsigned memos. Finally, William Attridge, their immediate boss, could tolerate the hostility no longer and called the two in for a meeting.
“We’re going to sit here until you two become friends again,” he said, “or at least until I find out what’s bugging you.” Martin resisted for a few minutes, denying that anything had changed in their relationship, but when she saw that Attridge was serious, she finally said, “Al seems more interested in dealing with Walter Murdoch.” Sharp’s jaw dropped; he sputtered but could not say anything. Attridge came to the rescue. “Walter’s been safely kicked upstairs, thanks in part to Al, and neither of you will have to deal with him in the future. But if you’re upset about that promotion, you should know that Al had nothing but praise for you and kept pointing out how this division would suffer if we buried you in Topeka. With your bonuses, you’re still making as much as
Murdoch. If your work here continues to be outstanding, you’ll be headed for a much better place than Topeka.” Embarrassed, Martin looked at Sharp, who shrugged and said, “You want to go get some coffee?” Over coffee, Martin told Sharp what she had been thinking for the past month and apologized for treating him unfairly. Sharp explained that what she saw as aloofness was actually respect and something akin to fear: He viewed her as brilliant and efficient. Consequently, he was very cautious, trying not to offend her. The next day, the office was almost back to normal. But a new ritual had been established: Martin and Sharp took a coffee break together every day at ten. Soon their teasing and friendly competition loosened up everyone they worked with. Case Questions
1- What might have happened had William Attridge not intervened? 2- Are the sources of misunderstanding between Martin and Sharp common or unusual?