Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 18;   April 30, 2008: Bemused Detachment

Bemused Detachment

by

Much of the difficulty between people at work is avoidable if only we can find ways to slow down our responses to each other. When we hurry, we react without thinking. Here's a suggestion for increasing comity by slowing down.

Most of our interactions at work focus on content, reasonably and calmly. We work together to get things done, most of the time. Even when we hit speed bumps, rumble strips or road humps, we continue to work together — mostly. At other times, we get frazzled, frustrated, angry, manic, incensed, outraged, or even murderous. How can we get control sooner and keep control more often?

Accretion Spins Pulsar to Millisecond Range

A still frame from the animation, "Accretion Spins Pulsar to Millisecond Range". Many natural processes act so as to limit themselves. The figure above is a frame from an animation of a pulsar accreting material from a star near it. The accretion causes the pulsar's rotation to increase, which increases its gravitational radiation, which in turn, decreases the pulsar spin rate. In effect, the gravitational radiation, which results from increasing spin, limits the spin rate. In a nascent conflict, the stance of Bemused Detachment (or any alternative self-discipline) is triggered by actual or perceived offense, and it, in turn, reduces the likelihood of responding with another offense. Image courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

A practice of self-discipline of some form does help. Some people focus on their breathing. For me, it's a stance I call bemused detachment. It doesn't work every time, but it often helps.

When we work together, bumps, affronts, and insults sometimes happen. And sometimes, they don't happen but we think they did. Either way, we react faster than we know. We judge others and their intentions, and sometimes we feel the urge to extract revenge, or to teach them lessons they haven't asked for.

When we act on these urges, we can create for ourselves new memories to regret. Goodness knows, we don't need any more of those. I already have plenty to regret.

We react not only to what others have said or done, but also to our own interpretations and to the significance we attach to those interpretations. If we can manage to slow down, we're less likely to act on the urge for revenge or the urge to educate.

Bemused detachment gives me a way to ask questions, silently, of myself, which slows me down. I like humor, so I try to ask whacky, somewhat funny questions. For example, when someone is rude to me, I can ask myself, "I wonder who spread the asphalt on his toast this morning?" Or, "Did I remember to remove the bull's-eye from my chest before I walked in here?" Or, "If this guy is trying to get me to lose it, I wonder if that really is the best he can do."

Bemused detachment is a stance of connected curiosity with a dash of fun. Here are two tips for learning to maintain this stance.We react not only to what
others have said or done,
but also to our own
interpretations and to the
significance we attach to
those interpretations

Practice interpretation
After some regrettably reactive incidents, practice coming up with interpretations of whatever you reacted to. Find as many interpretations as you can that have nothing to do with you.
Observe others' reaction choices
Observe others reacting, and find interpretations of what they reacted to that were not about them. Since these incidents probably aren't about you, you might be able to discover not-about-them interpretations more easily.

After you practice for a while, you'll notice times when you succeed in adopting a stance of bemused detachment. This is progress, but don't let it go to your head, because you'll surely slip from time to time. When you do slip, you can ask yourself, "If I'm trying to be an idiot, is that really the best I can do?" Go to top Top  Next issue: Ending Conversations  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

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Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

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.
Wilson's Bird-of-paradiseNew Ideas: Judging
When groups work together to solve problems, they eventually evaluate the ideas they generate. They sometimes reject perfectly good ideas, while accepting some really boneheaded ones. How can we judge new ideas more effectively?
A wrecked automobileToxic Conflict at Work
Preventing toxic conflict is a whole lot better than trying to untangle it once it starts. But to prevent toxic conflict, we must understand some basics of conflict, and why untangling toxic conflict can be so difficult.
Henny Youngman in 1957Quips That Work at Work: I
Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered, does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference?
A sunlit glenDirected Attention Fatigue
Humans have a limited capacity to concentrate attention on thought-intensive tasks. After a time, we must rest and renew. Most brainwork jobs aren't designed with this in mind.

See also Conflict Management and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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