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We've probably all been there, when the temperature in a meeting gets a little too high, emotions start to run hot, and the volume in the room rises. What happens next depends on a lot of factors, but one thing I've learned thanks to my time at Comalatech is that the outcome isn't always negative. In fact, these passionate discussions can have healthy, positive outcomes. Here's a few keys I've discovered since working at Comalatech that help us collaborate, loudly.
Comalatech has two main offices, one in Vancouver, Canada and one in Bilbao, Spain. But, we have significant Latin American presence as well, with team members hailing from Mexico (including our founder and CEO), Peru, Uruguay, and Chile. Now, Canadians are known for a few stereotypes, which may or may not be true, but one I'll admit to is that we do tend to be quiet and polite. This attitude was in sharp contrast to what I witnessed at my first Comalatech all-hands meeting. Sitting with my teammates in Spain, listening to our CEO talk about the next year, I was expecting a typical staid, restrained discussion. And it was, until the questions started being asked.
The questions were not what I was accustomed to. They were strident, pointed, perhaps even shockingly direct. They challenged the CEO, and when he disagreed and made his case, the questions only increased in their criticism. I began to wonder if the room was going to ignite into a screaming match, or if we'd have to adjourn until people had cooled off. It wasn't until later, when I shared my concern with a Spanish team member that they explained this kind of boisterous conversation was perfectly normal in Latin/Spanish culture. To my Mexican boss and Spanish team mates, there was nothing amiss about being brutally honest, or even raising your voice to make a point.
It was one of my earliest lessons at Comalatech, but I think it's relevant everywhere - in order to collaborate effectively, everyone must have an understanding of each others' cultures. My newfound understanding of Spanish culture certainly helped me to work better together with my teammates, but it also opened the door to learning new things about Spain. Things like, how Barcelona has the best football team, and Madrid has the best football team, and Bilbao has the best football team, and Galicia has the best everything.
Here's something that's crucial, whether you're the one talking passionately or you're the one listening - any criticism or feedback must be given and taken professionally, not personally. As someone receiving feedback, it's really easy to take those things personally, to feel like the person speaking is attacking you. Unfortunately, in some cases the person is attacking you personally, and those situations are toxic. On both sides of the equation, you need to behave appropriately lest you end up in a very negative outcome.
No one goes though life without receiving some criticism. A hard lesson I've had to learn is separating myself from my work. It's hard not to take it personally when a peer passionately tears down something you spent time creating. What helped me turn a corner was a team member who noticed my discomfort, and made a point to explain that they were only being critical of my work, and not my ability. Once I internalized this, I became much happier, and I think my output improved as well.
At the same time, as the giver of feedback you have a responsibility to stop short of getting personal in your criticism. Someone's work might not be their best at any given moment, but that doesn't mean they are bad at their job. Nor does it give you license to be insensitive. Want healthy collaboration? Be healthy in how you provide your feedback.
One of my personal highlights from Summits past was the keynote session in 2017, in San Jose. It was delivered by Kim Scott, author of "Radical Candor". Her central tenet is the philosophy "care personally, challenge directly". If you don't show a team member that you care about them personally before you give painfully honest feedback, you're likely to come off looking like a jerk at best, and a sociopath at worst. No one wants to collaborate with a jerk.
Even though it was 15 years ago, I still remember a time early in my career when I was ripped into by a Director of Sales. He called me on the road in a taxi cab, screaming about his displeasure that a prototype piece of hardware was loaned to a different division than his. He had only been on the job for a few weeks, had very little interaction with me, and certainly never took a personal interest in learning more about me. Did I walk away from that conversation thinking about whether his "passionate" criticism was valid? Of course not, I could only think about what a jerk he was.
This is in stark contrast to my experiences at Comalatech. Sure, I have heard some strongly worded critiques of my work, but at the end of the day I know that the people giving that feedback actually care about me. They know about my family, how old my kids are, whether I like beer or wine, what my favourite football team is, and I know the same about them. Hard truths are easier to swallow when you know the speaker has your best interests at heart.
I credit Comalatech with helping my personal growth, especially COO Simon Gatto and CEO Roberto Dominguez. Thanks to them, passionate discussions aren't something to avoided anymore, they can be productive if you have the right foundation.
Would your passionate voice fit in at Comalatech? We're hiring for a number of positions - check out our website for more information.