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? rbrenauubCHfWCEjgPQbfner@ChacYZXWrrkOOdtRGWkeoCanyon.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:
- Don't Worry, Anticipate!
- Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded
components. But by accepting them, by anticipating what you can, and by applying Pareto's principle,
you can usually find a safe path that suits you.
- Keep a Not-To-Do List
- Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since
they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having
a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.
- Changing the Subject: II
- Sometimes, in conversation, we must change the subject, but we also do it to dominate, manipulate, or
assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.
- Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
- We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions
that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive
bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept,
such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all
solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjLnkiZrJehRPEubener@ChacRRJVqkKYJubJoePdoCanyon.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, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.