They'd been at it for an hour, and Chuck was convinced that agreement was still out of reach. Geoff and the people from Diamond Square wanted to ship immediately and deal with any remaining problems in the field. Chuck and everyone else wanted to spend a little more time finding out how bad the problems were, and then make a more careful go/no-go decision. So the meeting was stuck.
Chuck offered an idea: "Why don't we all take a break and return at half past? Maybe get a bite to eat and if we come back refreshed, we might find a compromise."
Geoff quickly replied, "Not on your life. I've had enough dithering and stalling. Let's keep going until we decide."
By labeling Chuck's suggestion "dithering" and "stalling," Geoff hoped to devalue the idea. He used the power of naming not to advance the group's effort to resolve its differences, but to characterize Geoff's suggestion so as to devalue it. If he wins his point by attaching a one-dimensional name to the rich, open-ended tactic of taking a break, the team could be deprived of a possibly fruitful resolution of its impasse.
surprisingly commonSometimes, naming hurts.
And it's a tactic that many abuse. Over the next week, you can take an inventory of naming tactics in your organization. Once you start watching for name abuse, you'll be surprised at how common it is, and you'll be less likely to do it yourself.
Here are some typical examples of naming that can hurt.
- Analysis paralysis
- This name can end thinking and discussion when used like this: "Let's not get stuck in analysis paralysis." Another favorite term is "over-analysis."
- Rushing and haste
- By calling the resolution to act "rushing" we can halt action: "Let's not rush into this." Another form: "Let's not be so hasty."
- Bureaucratic micromanaging
- Labeling regulation and controls as bureaucratic micromanaging can cause an organization to abandon responsible and necessary controls. Not all controls are bureaucratic. Not all management is micromanagement.
- Human capital, Human resources
- By using the same name for people as we use for trucks or copy paper, we dehumanize the people. This makes it easier for us to make decisions that trouble us morally or ethically. If you call people "people" you're more likely to take your own values into account.
Labeling someone's ideas or behaviors, as Geoff did above, can be especially destructive, because we can hear the label as if it were applied to us personally, rather than to our ideas or behavior. Anger and defensiveness can follow. If you notice someone using these tactics on you, inhale, then exhale, and only then respond. Reminding yourself of your own humanity helps you forgive the namer and deflect the name. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Conflict Haiku
- When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing
that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups
into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
- Totally at Home
- Getting home from work is far more than a question of transportation. What can we do to come home totally
— to move not only our bodies, but our minds and our spirits from work to home?
- Inappropriate Levels of Regard
- The regard we have for others as people is sometimes influenced by the regard we have for the work they
do. Confusing the two is a dangerous error.
- Scope Creep and the Planning Fallacy
- Much is known about scope creep, but it nevertheless occurs with such alarming frequency that in some
organizations, it's a certainty. Perhaps what keeps us from controlling it better is that its causes
can't be addressed with management methodology. Its causes might be, in part, psychological.
- Personal Feasibility Decisions
- When considering whether to exploit a rare but desirable opportunity, there is a risk that desire can
overcome good sense. Having at hand a predefined framework for making such decisions reduces the risk
of blundering by acting in haste.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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