It was time for a big discussion amongst the whole group, so a couple of us watched and listened as the conversation cricket got underway.
When the fast bowlers had got a bit tired, the skillful slow bowlers began to dominate. There were clever little placings of un-returnable comments: spirit–sapping observations about what was going on in the organization. A classic stream of ‘we’re just not good enough’.
It’s usually better to let this all play out. But I didn’t want to miss any shifts in mood. (Ever since Kim Jong Un re-habilitated the word ‘dotard’, it does feel important to keep some sense of youthful alert energy going, don’t you think?)
So I kept a tally, literally, of the ‘damning’ versus the ‘possibly encouraging’ deliveries, and a tally of how they were returned. It’s the first time I’ve tried to chart visually what happens in a group as the tone and nature of the ‘ball in play’ changes.
We know from Freud that what’s really going on at a group level is a honed and habitual self- criticism. It’s a sort of super-ego ‘bait and switch’ script of mis-directed yet comfortably recognisable judgements. Oddly, when you record the points made by the critical group-voice, you begin to realise what a bully this voice can be. It becomes clear how limited is this script: and so repetitive.
Only as the scales began to turn again, with non –judgement, and the discussion of small nuggets of work that had gone ‘not too badly’, did anything of value or real interest to the group surface. We’ve talked before here about finding more subtle and helpful interpretations of ‘positive’ v ‘negative’.
The ‘keeping score’ experiment revealed a simple reason for seeking to help such discussions re-balance. The critical voice may be a necessary ritual, but it brings only the known. It can bring nothing that is new. The more supportive balanced voice begins to bring some self-understanding, to suggest real possibilities.
The other Freud tip here is that contradictory feelings exist, and must exist, at the same time. Hate and love, trust and suspicion and so on. So the trick in these real conversations about difficult areas of change is not to let the critical voice drown out the supportive voice: to watch out for that super – ego dominance with which we are all so familiar.
Your organization may be a much more balanced creation than you feared –
wildly OK, even.