When conflict is actually agreement

Have you ever been in a meeting watching two people debate over a point with lots of “energy” and they are actually in complete agreement?

This happens all the time.  Over time, if not addressed or recognized, distrust and dysfunction can result. Even though teams may be experiencing shared problems, their inability to communicate causes them to work at cross-purposes. Good intent turns into frustration and confusion. It is a shame because originally all participants were eager and well-intentioned individuals that wanted collaboration and teamwork.

The problem

The problem is actually true misunderstanding. In business, we all know that communication is very important. It is also one of the hardest things to do successfully and consistently. All experienced professionals know they need to be deliberate in their effort to be good communicators. So, why are we misunderstanding each other? I believe it often comes down to a language barrier. Typically, the language barriers occur between functional teams.

So, first, let me get one thing out of the way.  I am not saying that functional teams are bad and that they should go away. Poppycock!! We need specialized talent to shine! We need to recognize what we don’t do well and lean on others who can do what we can’t. We cannot do away with functional teams. We should however, evaluate the pitfalls.

Successfully working with different functional teams takes effort. The main reason is that the very thing that makes functional teams strong is the same thing that can make collaboration fall apart. See how the strengths and weaknesses can fight with each other.


As you can see, one of the main communication issues is the use of language. Typically, when you hear the word translator, one thinks of translating English, French or Chinese. What I am talking about, instead, is Business, Design, or Development. These teams classically do not communicate very well because they have languages that all sound like English (or French Chinese etc), but those words are defined in different ways to the various groups. Classic examples of words used that do not have shared meanings are the following (you probably have some more you could add):

BlogGraphics_word diagram

Ever heard or used these words in a meeting? Does the word Feasible mean to you what it means to another person? I will bet the answer is often no, unless that person works in your specialized area. Let’s use this example to illustrate my point.

Executive: “Is this approach feasible?”

Developer: “Yes, it is feasible.”

Executive definition of feasible: A reasonable path that can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time and cost.

Developer definition of feasible: Possible to do

So you can see the difference of the “can it be done” compared to the “should it be done” mindset. This conversation could definitely end up with the situation that the executive heard that the approach is reasonable and cost effective and the developer heard that whatever it takes, go ahead and do it. Neither person really had that intent.

The approach

The approach to this issue is all about being multi-lingual so translation can mitigate these pitfalls. Many people know more than one language. Most often we think of this as languages of geographic origin like Chinese representing people from China. In business,the term multilingual corresponds to the various languages of expertise like developer language for people who are talented software engineers or marketing language for people who are skilled with branding and promoting. If you are in one of these groups, you know that language well. If you are an expert, it is not likely you know the language of another expertise fluently. Also, people who have hired you and pay you well to be the expert don’t want you spending time trying to learn these other languages. They want you to be that efficient person in your talent area.

Multilingual people who want to stay that way, should not live in a functional area. If they did, they would risk “going native” and lose their ability to be the translator. “Going native” is an ethnographic term that means becoming entrenched in a community and losing objectivity.

Okay, now you are probably wondering how does this work, then? If you need a person who should not be on a functional team and remain objective to be successful, and you need this person to help create communication connections and understanding, then how exactly is this accomplished?

The solution

Because the best translator has no agenda and has not gone native, I suggest an independent consultant experienced across many functional areas. It is all well and good to find a person who is not biased or agenda-filled but if they don’t know your general business, they are not going to be able to help you.

Really good translators know they are in the meeting to translate. They are not in one of the functional teams because they need to be the one that is the glue to the meaning and has the vision of the end goal guiding them. They are deliberate and they have enough experience working with each of the groups to interpret effectively, but they are not the expert. They are often a person who is independent of the groups needing to understand each other, especially if things are in a dysfunctional state. Success is achieved by having no agenda but also having knowledge of many areas.

A great way to start is a planned workshop with representatives from each team for a thoughtfully moderated and facilitated session with a seasoned translator. You would be amazed at the consensus and understanding that can be obtained resulting in a new united road forward. Give it try and see what happens!

Do you need a translator in the areas of Software design, Education, Healthcare, Public Health, or Community Service? Contact New Notion, we can help your communications flourish.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Us

We uncover key user insights and translate those into effective messages, designs and motion media solutions that resonate with your audience.

nnwebsiteimages_about us

Our Services


Why? We help you understand what makes your customers tick.

Participant Observation
Contextual Inquiry
In-depth Interviews
Focus Groups
Facilitated Ideation


How? We help you create  the innovative design to implement.

Journey Mapping
Interaction Design
Design Thinking Workshops
Visual Design


What? Let us help you with the finishing touches.

AB Testing
Usability Testing
Expert Evaluations
Card Sorting
Web Analytic Analysis


See? We can help show your greatness through motion media.

Motion Media
Tutorial Development

Research The Why

We believe the best solutions come when you understand people from their frame of reference. We can give you the tools that empower you to make informed decisions.

  • Personas (Representations of User Types)
  • Strategic Roadmaps
  • Messaging Themes
  • Key Research Findings



DesignThe How

We help you create effective and research inspired designs. Your project is special and your design should fit your goal, not a cookie cutter pattern.

  • Wireframes
  • Interactive Prototypes
  • Composites
  • Storyboards

Evaluate The What

In a constantly changing environment, your product needs to stay current. Let us help you polish your product to improve the customer experience.

  • Usability test findings/recommendations
  • Journey Map
  • AB test findings



Show – See It

In the current social media climate, people are in a hurry and tend to scan information in text form. We can provide you tools to communicate it.

  • Product Demos
  • Video Tutorials
  • Educational Clips
  • Promotional Campaigns
  • Websites


Cynthia MorneweckPrincipal Design Strategist+
I'm drawn to the challenge and impact of computer-human system complexity. Whether in healthcare, education, or community service, I'm passiRead more
Lori Westphal PhDPrincipal Research Strategist+
I work with clients to identify their business needs and determine the appropriate analytical approach to solving their problems. Through myRead more

Our Clients

Governor's Office of Student Achievement

Missouri University Health Care



kragor orthodontics


Our Blog


What makes your customers tick?

As social creatures that operate within in a broader social context, we are all impacted by multiple social forces: socio-economic status, g
Learn more

Design Thinking: What is it?

In the last decade, I have heard quite a bit about the concept of Design Thinking from friends, colleagues, twitter, linkedIn, and RSS feeds
Learn more

Understand people – Technology will follow

I love technology. I have been working with and around technology my whole life. My parents are academics in engineering so as a child I pla
Learn more

Climate Change, GMOs and You

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” --Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist Vaccines, globa
Learn more
validity venn diagram0

Qualitative Research does not have to feel fuzzy

User research comes in two main forms, qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative data is highly contextual and describes attitudinal and beh
Learn more

5 Tips to Jumpstart Problem-Solving

Ever feel like you have the hit the idea wall? You are working through a problem and at some point you just feel blocked? This happens to me
Learn more

When conflict is actually agreement

Have you ever been in a meeting watching two people debate over a point with lots of “energy” and they are actually in complete agreement? T
Learn more

Contact Us