Sunday, September 18, 2011

Collaborate More, Defend Yourself Less

I have written a lot about moving from an Advocacy (also known as adversarial) type of discussion to a Collaborative type for a long time. Advocacy discussions are the kind we see most often, in which we make claims and defend them, and attack the claims made by the other side. This style is not as productive for many reasons (search on “collaboration” in this blog), and has two key weaknesses:

1. It sets up a “winners and losers” situation that leads to obvious negative impact on teamwork, integrity, listening, and “buy-in” do to the emphasis on winning. People will do surprising things to “win”.

2. It drives us into defenses that tend to drive us away from the reality of the situation and towards a distortion of that reality in order to reduce our anxiety regarding the potential of “losing face” associated with being wrong. It can cause a disconnection in relationships as well, and that makes it useless as a long-term strategy for solution generation.

The defenses to which I refer are classic positions that we all tend to choose from in cases where “winning” is at risk, and disconnect us from the reality of the situation. They protect us from changing our opinion publicly, which is often falsely seen as “unacceptable”. There are seven and they are:

1. Denial – The act of refusing to admit that an opinion that differs from ours is relevant, or conceding its relevance but expressing that the consequences can be postponed until they are moot.

2. Avoidance – Refusing to face a weakness in our argument. We may ignore it, change the subject, or refuse to discuss it.

3. Rationalization – Easily our favorite! Making excuses and explaining away any opinion that threatens to expose our weaknesses.

4. Intellectualization – View this as “rationalization for the well-educated”. The excuses and explanations are just more complex. They still serve the sole purpose of distancing the speaker from any perceived weakness of opinion or of character.

5. Displacement – Redirecting our reaction to being threatened away from a more formidable party to a less formidable one. Instead of standing up to the boss, we go home and yell at the kids.

6. Projection – Rather than deal with our negative emotions, we blame them on other people. Even more common, we simply blame others for our problems.

7. Regression – This is a specific behavior, and may be a pattern for some, in which we revert to childlike behaviors when facing stressful or unhappy situations. “I don’t want to talk about money problems tonight – let’s go out and party!”

These tactics from facing weaknesses in our own positions only postpone our having to deal with the underlying issue. Therefore, they promote wasting time and are only useful in the short-term if at all. Learning to find ways to use a collaborative model as often as possible will help us to neutralize these defenses and move us more quickly into finding solutions that improve teamwork and “buy-in” across stakeholders.

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