EMERGENCY! – CALL A PHILOSOPHER

Word of the week is compromise.

Missing behaviour of the week is co-operation.

There are fewer than 60 shopping days to Brexit.

And we are all losing the will to live.

It is beginning to look as if there is a skill shortage amongst those involved in the enterprise.  The skill in question takes years to learn and perfect, can often be confused with ‘being good’, and is crucial to any project involving more than one point of view.

Co-operation.

Co-operation is a sort of social competence. It enables us to work with people with whom we don’t identify, who have a different life experience, and different beliefs.  Complex situations are managed with intensive listening ability, curiosity and a creative conversational approach.

The current debates are not debates, are they.

They are limited set piece conversations that repeat positions and shrink possibilities.

The philosopher Bernard Williams observed a British authority style of conversation often associated with those in or close to power.

He called it the ‘fetish of assertion’.

The result of assertion is automatic defence. The possibility space shrinks.

The philosopher’s advice?

Avoid any ‘position possessiveness’. Leave space for ambiguity and exchange.

Is there still time for some co-operation training do we think?

NORWEGIAN WOULD

Every so often, a conversation doesn’t go quite the way you planned.  But, thrillingly, can reveal something much more interesting instead.

The interview below from Channel 4 News last week shows exactly this sort of delicious outcome.

And the lessons for all of us in any workplace are undeniably clear.

Say what you mean clearly, factually, and thus pleasantly

When making any plan involving the commitment or interest of people with whom you don’t usually work, do remember to communicate, consult and possibly persuade well in advance

Do be ready, if you haven’t remembered to do the above, to be found out.
Enjoy.

channel-4-news-logoChannel 4 News

“I think you would mess it all up for us, the way you have messed it all up for yourselves.”

Heidi Nordby Lunde, president of Norway’s European Movement, is sceptical about calls for the UK to strike a Norway-style deal with the EU.

 

S.W.I.M.

Travellers in the Dark Web (apparently) love to use the acronym S.W.I.M., meaning “someone who isn’t me’. (Of course, with repetition it will become abundantly clear to everyone which alias is which ‘me’.)

There’s a vein of dissatisfaction with the self, sometimes a shame, bound up in the use of an alias.

Dissatisfaction with the self can be expressed in all sorts of ways, and in the work place some of those ways can become surprisingly aggressive.

Have you ever been part of a team where another group is routinely criticised, vilified or scapegoated?

It seems to be becoming more common.

We seem, all of us, to be echoing the current fervently binary political atmosphere.

As with most of our behaviours, this serves us in some way.

One team with which I work has begun to default to this almost habitual blame quite naturally and easily. There is some stuff facing them that just feels too hard, too difficult.

Much, much more comfortable to concentrate on deficiencies elsewhere than begin the long sticky process of dealing with the mounting complex difficulties closer to home.

‘War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace’ said Thomas Mann (rather dourly).

But he refers to something we all experience.

Ambiguity, stuff that is difficult to sort and solve, can become too painful and onerous.

We begin to find ways to defend our fragile selves.

We ‘split’ off the parts and topics that are just too much.

Our political representatives (other terms are in use at the moment, I know) are finding it impossible to navigate the tangled, ambiguous, virtually unresolvable problem of Brexit and are instead resorting to binary simplistic stances. Wherever there are difficult problems to solve, teams are tending to revert to ‘us v them’ thinking.

There is only one way through that has any chance of success.

The trick is to begin to ‘bear’ the horribleness of not knowing what to do, to begin to live with the fiendish complexity of the thing.

The answer lies in working with that other part of ourselves, rather than vilifying it.

It is as if S.W.I.M. must become S.W.I.M.B.I.T.S.T

Someone who isn’t me, but is trying to sort it too.

COULD YOU REPEAT THAT?

A harmless and enjoyable way to while away an odd moment is to set the mind to thinking up useful words – where none currently exists – to describe experiences we all recognise.

(’Spinking, for example, could usefully describe that moment when you realise that a private thought has been spoken – so ill-advisedly out loud.)

David Davis may find after today that he has given his name to that moment when the listener passes through frustration to the point of simple ‘oh, just stop pretending’.

Perhaps it could be used .he reached the Davis point at the third denial’.

This Secretary of State described his Department’s most recent Brexit proposal earlier today as intentionally lacking clarity: employing ‘constructive ambiguity’.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-40934771/david-davis-brexit-is-going-incredibly-well

To revel in such an odd oxymoron is alarming.

Where were the advisers?

It’s nonsense, isn’t it?

In any responsible consultancy or coaching practice, lies the idea of Supervision. Professional and disinterested colleagues will meet to review and discuss others’ issues in a conscious structured process of advice and ‘course correction’.

One of the main characteristics of the process is ’constructive clarity’.

Colleagues challenge constructively, seek to understand more fully, and help to refine and improve the thinking.

CEOs, responsible Leaders, Team Builders talk often of the time and great care they take in finding a forum where such a process can take place – objective, constructive challenge that sheds light and makes their thinking better. 

We need to introduce the concept of Supervision to our beleaguered Statesmen and Stateswomen quickly.

It’s such a simple process.

All that is required is that one of a group of brave, objective, clear and independently minded professionals begin the discussion with, say, could you repeat that?

STRONG, STABLE, AND…. SINISTER

The total of repetitions of ‘Strong and Stable’ by the Prime Minister in interviews is currently running at well over 40 .

Lynton Crosby has dictated that these are the magic words: that they will clearly imprint the electorate with an indelible impression of competence.

Well, let no platitude escape our attention.

These are still groovily popular Leadership words in business, too.

And they are just as platitudinous, counterproductive, and misleading, in the workplace context.

The very human responses to this strategy are appearing as the election campaign wearily lumbers into first gear.

Robotic repetition generates an atmosphere of tetchiness, sarcasm, and then anger.

It stops any form of dialogue.

If the same words are used constantly in response to different approaches and questions, then the person making the approach experiences the relationship equivalent of a door continuously slammed in the face.

We’ve heard ‘another galaxy’ from Mr Juncker, and now Mr Verhofstadt is getting mighty close to trying to say… ‘stupid’.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-brexit-strong-stable-eu-negotiator-guy-verhofstadt-general-election-slogan-uk-prime-a7713891.html

Repetition is, in effect, a signal of contempt.

Remember that fabulously effective childhood long- car- journey game? Achieve deep parental insanity by rhythmically repeating a word (any word) until it loses its meaning.

Those listening just lose the will to live.

(And the words are so old fashioned, aren’t they?  They are favourites of yesterday’s Business gurus, who loved to use military metaphors for office life.  Which would you rather have – ‘strong and stable’ or – perhaps – ‘wise and responsive’? )

The car journey isn’t over.

There are many more repetitions to suffer.

A dear colleague reminded me of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation the other day.

‘…….Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’

What a deliciously sinister image.

CRASHING THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Even if you began a much needed news-abstinence programme on November 7th, some tweaks to the world order will have made themselves known to you by now.

We find ourselves crashing through the Looking–Glass.

Just like Alice, we discover that the great chess game in which we are now all involved works with fantastical counter-intuitive rules, logic-defying moves, and personalities much, much less pragmatic and constructive than the Red Queen’s.

As the dust does the opposite of settling, some words and phrases begin to appear and re-appear in just about every conversation- with individuals and teams, inside offices and outside work:
‘normalisation’
‘it will be alright’
‘more activism, not less, is what’s needed now’
‘I don’t know how to get engaged’
‘its not the end of the world. It’s the end of A world’
suggesting that ‘just buggering on’ as Churchill would say is proving difficult for everyone.

The new Looking-Glass world reaches into work life. It is far too tiring to pretend that all is well – to oneself, or to others – constantly within one context, work.

Those words -normalisation, activism, engagement – matter, and deserve some more thought.

Normalisation
On the world stage, I’m seeing this is in the well-intentioned (and standard-setting) graciousness greeting the (previously) unacceptable and loathed. I suspect that I too have ‘normalised’ behaviours and habits in business cultures with whom I’ve worked. It’s not going to help in the new Looking-Glass world. We should call things out now more than ever before.

This might mean being more of an ‘activist’, or being more ‘engaged’.
(But what does that even mean?)

Activism
The dictionary definition reads ‘The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change’.

Engagement
An elusive term in the world of organizational / leadership consultancy but most definitions include, somewhat platitudinously, that engagement involves emotional commitment to an organization and its goals.

A much better way to think about an employee’s ‘engagement’ is to think of creating as small a dislocation as possible between that person’s own values, and those of the organisation.

And suddenly, activism and engagement connect.
Bring about change, be active.
Alice, remember, survived.
She didn’t ‘normalise’. And boy, did she keep on trying to change things.

HUNT THE SYMBOL

A constitutional crisis, shock then anger, no way out.

Brexit life begins.

An early casualty of last week’s referendum was surely – as with war – truth.

Can words (either side) ever again be believed?  As words are traduced, then images and metaphors leap into life.  Just as in our everyday working lives, it’s the colourful, naughty, funny images that cut through any amount of misleading official statements. Here are three descriptions of what happened on June 23rd. Two from journalists, one from a writer, they all appeared within 72 hours.

“This is like having a headache and then shooting off your foot.
No foot. And you still have the headache”

“Johnson and Gove wore the expressions of people at an auction who,
having made a spectacularly extravagant and jokey bid, see the
auctioneer’s gavel finally fall and commit them to the sale”

“Gove spoke like a man who had just woken up from a bad trip to discover
that he had murdered his brother”

Words and meaning can become untethered at times of fear (and loathing).  Images, metaphors and symbols cut right through it all.  And might just reduce the misery.