Sunday, 19 January 2014

'Why?' not 'Who?'

Have you noticed how easy it is to blame the person rather than the circumstances? Or how easy it is to focus on the process and simply not see the people who make it up? We treat people as tools every day - and that's coded in. The very structure of human languages is about a subject doing (verb) something to something else (object) which is good or bad (adjectives). When anything doesn't go as planned, the first question that comes to mind is "who screwed up?" - you can't fight it, it's coded in. But you can learn to go beyond it.

On the other hand, we're all very, very sensitive to being treated with fairness. As Frans de Wall has shown, this is also probably deeply in-built in all primates: so when a person is taken to task for sothing they feel is beyond their control, they'll react with hurt and anger: it's unfair!

When we visit problem solving efforts with the CEO of a cosntruction company we find that in the "cause" box managers often write a variant of "the operator screwed up" (didn't follow instructions, didn't pay attention, couldn't be bothered, didn't know what they were doing, was in a bad mood, and so on and so forth). On one point, we're all the same: unfair is OK as long as it happens to someone else! The CEO then reframes the question in the terms:

"What blocage did the person encounter that made them deviate from the correct process (they have usually been using everywhere else)?"

This question refocuses attention on the circumstances, not the person - and very quickly turns it around to management as we discover that the operator was trapped in a way: wasn't told, was distracted, was given confusing instructions, wasn't taught, etc.

A problem statement is first a gap in performance (what we get as opposed to what we hoped for) and a blocage in the ideal process (this was supposed to happen, but because of these circumstances, that happened instead). Sure, the person could have been smarter than the circumstances, but that's a lot to ask for isn't it?

Because our talking-monkey mind is so biased to solving our immediate problems and using people as tools to do so, we can accept it and retrain ourselves to see people as allies which we can enroll to improve a situation and share success. This radical shift in language supports a radical change in behaviour, and, if you practice it long enough a revolution in both outlook and attitude. People are not instruments but they can become partners.

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