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 seemed distant 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 sonâ€™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
Relations in the office were very chilly for almost a month. Sharp soon gave up trying to get
back in Martinâ€™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. “Weâ€™re going to sit here until you two become friends again,” he said, “or at
least until I find out whatâ€™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.” Sharpâ€™s jaw dropped; he sputtered but could not say anything. Attridge
came to the rescue.
“Walterâ€™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 youâ€™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, youâ€™re still making as much as Murdoch. If your work here
continues to be outstanding, youâ€™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
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.
Moorhead and Griffin
1 Read the case, “Heading Off a Permanent Misunderstanding,” and shortly analyze the case using the communication process.
2. which of the barriers happened in this case?
3. which pattern is in the case?