Cynicism can be a very destructive force, and can be particularly damaging to the trust/goodwill/benefit-of-the-doubt that seems to help collaboration unfold. I might suggest that perceived hypocrisy is the very best fertilizer for those cynical weeds in the collaborative lawn of an intra- on inter-corporate culture.
Claiming hypocrisy appears to be a safe place from which to launch a critical attack. Much of the criticisms of the recent Copenhagen climate summit point to a disconnect between curbing greenhouse emissions and jetting off to global conferences, then taking limousines to the hotel.
Al Gore received the same treatment for living in a mansion.
David Suzuki got it for using a tour bus to move his small entourage around Canada.
On a smaller scale, in the set-up to some client work I did on effective meeting behaviours, the senior manager showed up a few minutes late and then began chastising the lack of respect for people’s time that hampered effectiveness.
In my role as a trainer/instructor, I have an opportunity to instill the importance of “walking the talk” when engaging hostile stakeholder groups, or even members of a cross-functional team. Most of the time clients, students and attendees can’t tell if I actually walk my talk. (Recall the cynical adage: If you can’t do, teach.)
Note: A colleague of mine, who also teaches negotiations found a neat way around the issue: “It’s not how good a negotiator I am; it’s how good are you after I have taught you.”
There are two situations where those watching, I think, have an opportunity to really assess my walk-to-talk ratio.
1 – Training presentation skills: Similar to writing a book on writing skills, leading a training session on “presenting” always makes me feel naked. During one such session, I found the projector frozen (having spent a December night in the trunk of a car). I am certain the audience was quietly thinking, “Wow! What is he going to do now?” and expecting me to have the right answer, (which is get on with the content; you will find the projector works fine once it is warmed up!)
2 – Negotiating grades for a Negotiation class: Students have an option to analyze and strategize their negotiation with me for a final mark in my MBA course. I don’t feel as naked in these situations because of the obvious power imbalance.
Either of these situations provides clear opportunities to spot the “do as I say, not as I do” moments. I can’t say that I have been called out much at all. One gentleman approached me after a training session with a hypocrisy sighting: “You told us you tend to ‘beg forgiveness over ask permission,’ but then you kept asking us if it was OK to move on.”
Hmmm. Needless to say, no “participation” marks were on the line this time.
When under scrutiny, I think that credibility can become very solid very quickly if the talk and walk line up. Authenticity is a strong asset in managing and leading change from any level of an organization. I firmly believe that those under the most scrutiny (from strong out-group camps), have a fighting chance to gain/regain credibility when they “walk their talk” as much as possible. This means that if I am not flawless, I can’t hold you to a flawless standard… that would be hypocritical, which would make you cynical, which limits our ability to collaborate.
No one is bullet proof. It is far too difficult to fake it. Lead with your strengths, and find others to cover your weaknesses.
The last day of public school reminded me of my youth when late in the school year, my grade 7 English teacher, Mr. Williams, gave us a quiz on a series of short stories he had assigned to read. The front page was a combination of short answer, fill in the blank, and true/false questions. On the back, there was on line on which we were to record “the number, between 0 and 6, of stories that you actually read.”
Does self evaluation get any better than that? I can’t remember what I wrote or his reaction, but I remember pondering whether to gamble in looking “studious, yet forgetful” or being “honest and, perhaps, lucky.”
Look for a letter to the editor that I submitted on two articles in today’s National Post commenting on peer evaluations in university. The issue being, is it progress to use a software that allows peer grading for short written assignments? Dangerous move toward blind leading the blind, or novel way to bring technology and dialogue into new millennium academia?
I will share the actual submission, if printed, but the gist of my argument is that most post-secondary education should be about discussion to gather support for an argument, and practice in presenting arguments effectively. This view reflects my bias in working in a business school, and away from the “black and white” numbers side of things (although you learn to use numbers in such a way to support your intentions).
The article writers on opposite sides of the issue both do a poor job in supporting their case. The software vendor quickly refers readers to the vendor site for objective support for the value of the software. You have to do better than “if you don’t believe me, then look at this thing that I wrote.” Where is your third-party endorsement?! The teaching assistants make a noble attempt to evoke an analogy, which I find very effective. Their problem is the hyperbole (it’s like peer-delivered medicine) followed by a quick “All joking aside…”
When operating out of the realm where you have no “benefit of the doubt,” that kind of support won’t cut it!
I spent the morning working with a client to “bullet proof” a proposed project direction that she will presenting over the phone to a task force. We were meticulous about the clarity of ideas and the relevant support to back them up. Since the group meets every 6 to 8 weeks, getting buy-in next meeting could mean accelerating the project schedule by two months. Not bad for 90 minutes of prep work: for the numbers people, it is almost a 1000-fold return on minutes spent. I will suggest it is worth spending the time, and worth getting help.
In work that I do with clients, the situations with the lowest return on time/energy (ROTE) consistently involve communications with those who don’t “get it.” “Getting it” and “not getting it” creates very strong in/out-group perceptions. “It” can take a number of different forms, and usually, I am on the outside looking in. I will hear, for example:
- THEY don’t get that a for-profit model can fit in health care.
- THEY don’t get that Canada is a different market from the U.S.
- THEY don’t get that they are losing the chance at more business down the road by being so contentious now.
My job is to help them to help the other side to “get it.” It can work, but not all the time. Recently, I fear, I was the one who was likely being accused of not “getting it,” which, honestly, is new for me. I actually pride myself on being able to see both sides of things, in most instances. As I understand, and tell my clients, when you are involved, things become less visible. On top of that, it can be completely unclear who is right.
For example, imagine those who did not want to give the automotive Big Three any U.S. Government funds.
For them, the situation is clear:
The Big Three (THEY) don’t get that the model is broken and more money is only prolonging their ultimate demise.
For those supporting a loan/bailout, it is equally clear:
The U.S. Gov (THEY) don’t get that we just need a bridge loan. Weather this storm, and we are set up for long-term success.
One of those positions is right, but only time will tell.
My recent challenge is bringing my “soft-skills” orientation into a “tech-savvy” environment in a discussion about creating value in information sharing and collaborating. Quite predictably, one of us is “not getting” that if and how people use any tool–not to mention the relationship between the parties–will dictate a large degree of effectiveness. Perhaps the other of us is “not getting” that in the future, personal relationships, perceptions and things like “the benefit of the doubt” have little or no role in the workplace.
One of those positions is right, but only time will tell.
Last week Indira Naidoo Harris was a guest host for the CBC Radio One program The Current, and spoke with Lanny Davis, former special legal counsel to Bill Clinton. “Conversation” may be the wrong word for the exchange; “interview” also seems to miss the mark. The topic of the exchange was Hillary Clinton’s appropriateness for the position of United States of America Secretary of State under president-elect Barack Obama.
Some “conversations” are difficult; many more difficult than they have to be. This exchange was clearly both, as pointed out by the National Post in print and online. Mr. Davis gave not an inch, and immediately began the “interview” by calling out the “innuendo” of the Harris’s introduction. He then demanded “facts” to support the allegations. Apparently, he would have settled for just one, but none were forthcoming. It was a strange moment when Harris tried to move on by empathizing as to “difficulties” that Davis must be having with the “issues.” It sounds like a suggested phrase from self-help book on “Active Listening.” Davis was not to be appeased: “give me the facts.”
It is good to hear an exchange where one side gives the other no benefit of the doubt, because, from my perspective, a number of these conversations don’t happen because of the promised contentiousness. This type of conflict, however, is the reality of pushing against resistance in the form of someone who will attack everything you say. This can be especially true if the exchange has an audience. It is not about how you deliver your message; it comes down to what you are saying. (But imagine if they had been e-mailing each other!)
These conversations are good practice for reaching out of our in-groups. I would suggest that often we rely on another’s trust (or disengagement from the situation) to get away with not supporting our position sufficiently, if at all. Pushback is good practice, and demonstrates engagement. I would hope that Ms. Harris learned from the exchange.
I don’t suggest that the answer is to prep for every interaction like you are speaking to the Fifth Estate, or The Current for that matter. Some situations, such as a job interview, can add a degree of healthy “defense” that drives us to spend some time fact checking in order to have our support at the ready. It doesn’t have to be contentious, but conflict can call out some ideas that may be unchallenged but can’t be well supported.
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