We rarely afford ourselves with the luxury of engaging in sufficient time to do what Donald Schön called “reflection in action”. When we do so, we realise just how much more there is to life and we enhance our learning experiences. One of the biggest challenges in our lives is productively engaging with others. Group dynamics is a double edged sword! Groups enable us to share workload, enjoy learning from other’s perspectives and engage in a deeply rewarding relationship that creates something together. However, the other side of group work is that we perceive we “have to compromise” with others and listen to their views which may be quite different to your own. When a group of people get together their differences can be their greatest asset, as they get to learn how others see things. This can help them to make sense of why things are how they are. However, the unfortunate truth is that highly competent people have confidence in their own abilities and perspectives and try to influence others that their own way is the best way. What this really means is that it matches their CURRENT patterns of thinking and experiences, so they identify with it well. However, learning and relationship building are about creating new patterns of thinking and deeper levels of understanding. These happen best through listening and conversing about relative merits, not telling others why you are right (thereby implying they are wrong).
Ambitious successful people (those appropriately attracted to courses like MBA’s), often see a different opinion as a personal challenge to their leadership capabilities or professionalism. IT ISN’T (necessarily)! It is a terrific opportunity to open your mind and behave in some unfamiliar roles to increase your diversity and enable you to acknowledge the value in arguments you did not consider yourself. This is not a fault – it is how we learn and become better through the knowledge and thoughts of our extended networks. It allows us to be more than we can be as an individual.
So here is your personal development challenge over the next few weeks… put away your initial reaction to what you hear. Reject the urge to say “Yes, but…” Give a moment to reflect on whether that statement that you heard a colleague state. Assess what merit it may have that you did not previously see: If it does adopt it into your approach. If it does not, seek further information about it – ask an OPEN question to learn more. You never now, it may be the best idea you ever subconsciously rejected before it had time to grow on you. It is also possible that it is as sub-optimal you first thought! If is it, then professionally questioning it often leads to the person offering it to realise it is not sufficiently robust. Intelligent people usually come to understand that there are other ideas or options that may be better. This is how effective conversations that matter work to generate better outcomes for all (assuming everyone wants win/win and as long as there is a respectful manner when challenging ideas). I know this approach works and has on many occasions educated me to adopt new ideas I would have not have benefited from without listening and engaging in dialogue. What happens when you get this right is we all end up with richer understandings from the interactions. If we don’t engage in this way, it is almost certain we will end up just maintain the status quo (at best) or worse, lead to conflict and everyone losing.
As Theodore Zeldin stated: “The kind of conversation I’m interested in is one which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person. It is always an experiment, whose results are never guaranteed. It involves risk. It’s an adventure in which we agree to cook the world together and make it taste less bitter.”
Dorothy Leonard-Barton highlighted back in 1995 in Wellsprings of Knowledge that “creative abrasion” is a positive source of innovation and learning and something to be consciously acknowledged and leveraged. She went on to propose teams should be designed to include diversity and systems of thought that encourage different views and/or ontology to be expressed, argued and reconciled. This is why people SHOULD pay good money for high quality education that help them to think and constructively challenge! They get to interact with other string intellects and learn how to learn from each other. With the right focus and facilitation they become more capable. Another outcome of quality education is the participants are more effective, they can utilise more behavioural styles when engaging with others (and leverage groups for mutual benefits). After all, isn’t a “problem” just an opportunity to make something better? Well lead creative abrasion through professional conversation enables you to keep your eye on the outcomes and adapt your behaviour such that you can achieve this. This is one way the Zoo animal characters can be used effectively – reflecting on who you should be in that context, not allowing the context to drive how you react.
You deserve to enjoy your group interactions rather than endure them, so do the free online behavioural profile and assess how adaptable is your style to suit all the contexts you engage in…. (please be sure to challenge yourself and reflect on what you need to do to become who you want to be not just believe you are already there).