When someone in a decision-making group raises a disquieting question — about a supposed fact, an assumption, a report, whatever — the group might focus on the individual who raised the question, rather than the question itself. They might attribute to the questioner dark motives or character defects, such as intentionally sowing dissension, or not being a team player, or being negative, or worse. If the group sees a pattern of such behavior, or if the questioner is in the minority, the group might stigmatize the questioner, even if the questions raised were legitimate.
This pattern of group behavior can prevent the group from foreseeing the foreseeable. By limiting its access to questions about its decisions, it exposes itself to the risk of flaws in its process, which can lead to errors.
Here are three indicators that a group might be focusing on the questioner, rather than the question. In what follows, I'll use the term dissenter to denote the person who has raised the disquieting question.
- Issues raised by dissenters remain unaddressed
- Groups can fail to address dissenters' issues in several ways. Issues can be dismissed; brushed aside after cursory, biased, or disingenuous investigation; simply ignored; moved to the "parking lot" never to be retrieved; or assigned to investigative committees that fail to report back until too late.
- Does your group deal forthrightly and promptly with disquieting issues raised by dissenters?
- Identity of the dissenter determines how issues are treated
- Sometimes the respect paid to disquieting issues is based, in part, on the identity of the originator. In effect, the group confuses the importance of the issue with the social status or motives of the dissenter. When this happens, groups are less likely to foresee the foreseeable, because they're more likely to overlook important issues.
- When disquieting issues are Sometimes the respect paid to
disquieting issues is based, in
part, on the identity
of the originatorraised, is the action taken truly independent of the originator's identity?
- Issues once raised by dissenters, and dismissed, are later resurrected
- Some groups resurrect issues that were initially raised by dissenters, but which were eventually set aside. The issue can suddenly become legitimate when someone else resurrects it, possibly with new terminology, or accompanied by claims that conditions have changed and the issue is now worthy of consideration. A pattern of issues originated by dissenters, then set aside but later dealt with after being resurrected by members of the majority, suggests that the identity of an issue's advocate influences the group's evaluation of issue significance.
- Does your group resurrect issues originated by dissenters after they have been set aside?
Excoriation or ejection of dissenters is perhaps the pattern most likely to degrade decision quality, because it prevents any future contribution from those ejected, and because it deters others. Does your group focus on the questioner or the question? First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Encourage Truth Telling
- Getting to the truth can be a difficult task for managers. People sometimes withhold, spin, or slant
reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening. A culture that supports
truth telling can be an organization's most valuable asset.
- Most of us follow paths through our careers, or through life. We get nervous when we're off the path.
We feel better when we're doing what everyone else is doing. But is that sensible?
- Healthy Practices
- Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational
culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
- When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming
the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational
- Overconfidence at Work
- Confidence in our judgments and ourselves is essential to success. Confidence misplaced — overconfidence
— leads to trouble and failure. Understanding the causes and consequences of overconfidence can
be most useful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info