Archive for the 'Problem Solving' Category

How to work with bias – addressing a hidden dynamic

When working with groups looking at prejudice and bias, one of the most frequent questions I get is:

But how can I get them to change their bias and behaviour?

Naturally, when an individual expresses a prejudice in a harmful way, people can feel the need for them to change their behaviour. However, the other person doesn’t always see it this way. In fact, they often defend their position and attempt to assert it more powerfully. Recent election campaigns have seemed to promote this behaviour – no matter which camp you are in, defensiveness and ridicule are par for the course.

This natural defensiveness poses a number of challenges when working to change perceived biases. So I decided to look at what we are asking of someone when we deem their prejudice is bad and try to “help” them change.  Assuming we’ve managed to jump the yawining chasm and engage in a conversation, what we are asking is,

That they:

  1. Know they are biased;
  2. Want to change it (by far the biggest challenge), and then
  3. Know how to change them

If that wasn’t difficult enough, although acts of discrimination and hurt are usually delivered by people, they are all culturally informed and sustained. The segregation of blacks and whites in the US and South Africa did more to reinforce the prejudices than the other way around. Growing up in such a situation can make one’s own bias:

  • Difficult to identify
  • Seem impersonal and therefore decrease perceptions of personal responsibility (ie. colonial guilt)
  • Even if the person does want to change, they may feel like they are betraying the culture where they learned the bias, which can create shame as well as threaten their sense of belonging.

To illustrate this last point, or the hidden dynamic of bias, imagine the following:

If a pick-pocket goes past a bulging wallet and doesn’t take it, they may well feel guilt or shame. After all, according to Fagin, “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two.”

In the world of pick-pocket culture, not taking the wallet is not only a missed opportunity, but a challenge to identity and belonging. It is almost shameful to a pick-pocket!

The point being that if your group does things in a certain way, and that group is like family, then, if you do something different, you will feel guilty about it – even if you don’t want to feel guilty, and even when you know it’s “right.”

It is this last point that I would like to think about before going trying to “enlighten” the other person’s stance or viewpoint. Be careful, because you are also talking about their culture.

What would you do if someone came and told you,

“Only idiots lock their houses! If you want to get anywhere in life, you should leave all the doors unlocked in order to let strangers in who might bring new gifts or stories that you and your family really want…”

You’d probably tell them they were crazy – at best.

If you are short on real-life examples, a cursory look at the language of the recent American presidential candidates will give you plenty of examples of how “stupid” and “crazy” the other is. So is it helping?

What might be a better approach?

Based on my years of mediating and running groups, here’s what I suggest.

  1. Identify what’s in it for them (benefit)
  2. Let them know you are interested in their well-being (care)
  3. Check your own assumptions and prejudices (authenticity)

First, identify the pay-off or benefit for the person. This will help re-humanise the other. This may not be obvious, or even conscious, but at some level, the person is getting something back for having that point of view. (see Kegan & Lacey, “Immunity to Change” and Dan Ariely “Pay-off” for more on this). Nobody does anything that is 100% bad for them. Find out what the pay-offs are and speak to those first.

These could be anything from friends and belonging; safety and the avoidance of shame; certainty in the face of ambiguity and threat; or even just a good way to have an argument or get some attention. There is always a payoff.

Second, let the person know you have their back. This is basic care.

No one cares how much you know, unless they know how much you care.

If you are interested in changing them for your benefit only, chances are they will tell you to take a long walk off a short pier… Its not going to work.

Finally, be authentic.  Start by checking your own assumptions and prejudice. Asking someone to check their own without you doing it first, is not only hypocritical, it also lacks integrity. And no one likes being lectured by a hypocritical dupe! To do this authentically, to really look at your own biases takes courage and letting go. It’s important to know what that is like before expecting someone else to do it

So once you’re aware of some of your own fears, here are some steps you might try:

  1. Find out more about their world and situation – understand the context for why that view exists. AND importantly, let them know you understand that.
  2. Find out about the person’s hopes, needs and wishes. Identify the persons aspirations and speak to those
  3. And, if possible, find a way to help that person get the pay-off easier or in a different way.

– and with Christmas coming up, I am sure you can find some relatives to practice with. You might even get them to do it to you.

Thanks for reading – please comment below if you have your own thoughts on the subject.

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Learning How to Learn

Accelerated Learning Comes Down to Attitude:

A recent study at Michigan State University has revealed that those who believe in learning, learn faster.  This means that attitude may be as importance as ability in the learning process.

Tracking electrical impulses in the brain has allowed researches to identify two responses to learning: One, the moment of awareness and; Two; what to do with that awareness.  Those that believed intelligence to be pliable put more “brain energy” into learning and so improved.

The good news is that this attitude or approach can also be developed, we can learn how to learn.  How? By focusing on the process, rather than the outcome.  Or concentrating on the “throw,” rather than the “catch.”  And that approach may be even more important than the skill itself.

see: The Oops! Response by MW Moyer

A Presentation on ProcessWork

Here is a very basic presentation to Process Work. I am running an introductory workshop on it tomorrow at UK Mediation Academy for the Professional Mediators Association.

It’s the tip of the iceberg of how people can start to change the way they look at situations in order to grow through them.

Intrinsic Motivators

Here Daniel Pink shares his research on what I have often thought might be true, but was speaking from my gut.  (As Stephen Colbert would say, that’s because there are millions of nerve endings in my gut telling me whats true.)

But if you like studies and empirical research, take a look through this.

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does:

  1. External Motivators (Carrots and Sticks) work well only for mechanical based tasks.
  2. “If  …  Then  …” reward structures destroy creativity.
  3. The secret to high performance is not found in external motivators, but in intrinsic motivators such as:
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery, and
  • Purpose

Watch this link to see more:

Reflexive Leadership – Shifting Balances

As a provider of leadership and management training, with endorsements from  Train to Gain, I believe it is important to lay out what I mean by leadership development.  There is a big buzz about “leadership” following Iraq, the financial crisis and even climate change issues.

There are at least two forces challenging notions of leadership that are facing us today.  They include:

  1. The dissatisfaction with current models of political and organisational power that have led us into the calamities listed above.
  2. A matter of definition – one that remains, perhaps necessarily, mercurial and oblique.

The first of these two issues is a matter of some debate and energy, particularly in current think tanks.  Matthew Taylor of the RSA is adamant about challenging the current and outdated models of “leadership by deference.”  One of the challenges here is that to step beyond a culture of deference requires an extra degree of self-responsibility.  This is an interesting challenge and one that can be explored on his blog here.

Elements of Reflexive Leadership

The second one, of definition, is the main purpose of this entry.  It is also one that will be forever changing, so it is with a degree of predicted obsolescence that I attempt to name what I mean by leadership, or specifically, Reflexive Leadership.  It includes the following elements:

  • Awareness
  • Reflection
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge
  • Access to resources
  • Vision, and
  • Accountability

Reflexive leadership is based on the increasing awareness of the value of self-reflection in practice – whether it be as a therapist, student or business person. This practice is commonly seen in Kolb’s learning cycle and occurs when attempting to learn any new skill or conquer arising challenges.  The value of reflection has long been acknowledged, but in time-poor environments, it is often the first thing to go.

However, this can be a costly mistake in the long run.  As pointed out by David Allen, this thinking time. named “knowledge work” is often THE work that needs to be done.  Take yourself – as a skilled practitioner in whatever field you have chosen.  Let us say, something arises that is challenging your performance or objective.  Nine times out of ten it is not your lack of skill or know-how that is the problem, the problem is based on either one of two elements:

  1. It is relational.  Something is affecting you, your colleagues or your clients and is having an impact.  Chances are it is not directly related to the current content of your delivery or objective.  These matters may seem to be unprofessional distractions, but we ignore them at our peril.  Clearing such matters up can unblock many obstacles and put your delivery back on track.  If this is something that cannot be done by you, an acknowledgement of this as a genuine support need can go a long way to increasing your team’s performance.
  2. There is something outside of your awareness that is affecting the issue.  Take for example you are exploring diversity with your team for the day – and have hired a building that looks like a courthouse to do so.  It may happen that some of the people have not had good experience with the law, or may just feel intimidated by the setting.  Without realising why, you notice some of the people involved are closed or even irritated.  As people from minorities often experience oppression directly or indirectly from such institutions, the venue may be having an unitended impact on the day.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t use courthouses or avoid symbols of contention, rather an awareness of them needs to be brought in – and in fact, when done well, can make for transformational discoveries.

Addressing either of these two elements takes reflection and thinking time.  Building time in before and after to reflect on choices can go a long way in supporting solid leadership.

In any situation, it may also just be that the communication loop is not connected and that somewhere something is not coherent.  This may be between:

  • your intention and your message;
  • your message delivery and it’s perception;
  • or perhaps in missed feedback from your recipients.

Again, being a reflexive leader will help identify these shortcomings and address them.

Reflexive Leadership isn’t just confined to reflection and thinking time.  It also demands a more immediate sense of “response-ability.”  That is, good leaders are able to respond to unavoidable and unpredictable challenges.  While this ability can be improved through reflection, it also requires creativity, support and knowledge.  Moreover, it is not essential that these are present in a single person – a designated “Leader” by one title or another.  On the contrary, a good team will have multiple resources of these elements. Good leadership recognises where they are available and utilises them.

Another crucial ingredient of good reflexive leadership is vision.  Having a view for the bigger picture is crucial in knowing which of the resources is worth utilising at any point, given the circumstances.  Awareness of such goals and objectives provides good leadership in any context.

Finally, what really stands out in leadership is accountability.  Not shying away from this element is in fact one of the inspiring elements that draw people to one choice over another.   Developing an organsiation is about getting others to trust it – to invest in it.  Without accountability, leadership is trivial and unsustainable.  It is a lack of accountability that has created the disturbances in our financial system that we are experiencing today.

Leadership as “Role”

Above and beyond these elements of leadership, is recognising its shifting nature and that leadership is a role rather than an individual’s title.  This means that anyone in a team or organisation may exhibit leadership qualities.  For example, a receptionist may have insights gathered from interacting with customers that lead to important organisational change.

Optimum leadership is necessarily fluid and a shared responsibility that is not confined to the designated few, but available to all.  Such a concept may seem challenging to many organisational structures.  However, that is not the intention, organised structures create opportunities for fantastic achievements.  Rather, it seeks to promote a way of thinking that maximises the potential of a group rather than limiting it to the thinking of a few – this can be done while maintaining agreed structures and avenues of communication.  Importantly, recognising the mutable nature of leadership will support us in understanding how best to step into its role.

Using Reflexive leadership will help us find our leaders in the shifting balances of power and information that constantly challenge organisations today. By finding ways to respect both agency and community, groups and individuals, reflexive leadership will help us come to terms with the current challenges of leadership.

Four Ways to Work With Conflict

Disputes can have many unwanted consequences, from loss of enthusiasm to downturns in productivity and creativity. Unheeded, they can destroy relationships at a personal, business and even global level. The examples are countless. As there are many ways to treat an injury, so there are many ways to work with disputes. All have their appropriate place. Here are a few common choices:

1. Leave it alone. In many cases, this is just what is required. However, this is not always a healthy option and in some cases, things can go from bad to worse…

2. Put a band-aid on it. There are a number of simple exercises we can work with to give you simple tools to apply to conflicts as and when they arise. Based on awareness and effective communication, these can help stop slight abrasions turning nasty. A must for anyone wanting to keep on top of things in their business or home life.

3. Try a holistic health program. Simple conventional ideas are ineffective when the underlying causes are not dealt with. Sometimes it is necessary to spend more time considering the factors and influences at play in a dispute and working with them creatively in order to support a return to health. By exploring alternative ways of dealing with conflict, we can help you move on with extra bounce!

4. A blood transfusion. This has drastic and often undesireable consequences, these include: greater risks, longer recover times and loss of activity. Unfortunately, there are times when old blood has to go and something entirely new has to be brought in. We can look at ways to facilitate this process to make it work best for everyone involved.

For more, visit my website.

Failure to Manage Change – Stages 1 & 2

There are a number of other elements that prevent people from taking postive action in the face of change or crisis.

Apart from fear of failure which alone can be a major stumbling block to action and crucially, averting threats, I have summarised the following list from Jared Diamond’s book Collapse. Bear in mind these points are looking at decisions from a civilisation perspective and whether they choose to succeed or fail. They are timely considerations.

1) Failure to Anticipate

This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • New components mixing = unknown outcome. For example, introducing new species into different environments can have unforeseen consequences. The Cane toad epidemic in Australia is one example.

  • Lack of information. Such information can vary from general – such as lack of weather reports and data, to specific – like what to do when the ocean water recedes suddenly: As in the tradgedy a number of boxing days ago – RUN! A Tsunami is on its way.

FACILITATING CHANGE

  • Using inappropriate analogies. This occurs when foreign cultural ideas and strategies are used to make sense of new environments. It may appear well and good to ban Inuit people killing whales, but when their lives literally depend on their oils this can have disastrous consequences on the community.

2) Failure to Perceive

This happens when the threat or changes are difficult or impossible to detect. Continue reading ‘Failure to Manage Change – Stages 1 & 2’