When groups engage in joint problem solving, and members make contributions, other members sometimes identify the contribution with the contributor. We speak of (or think of) Chet's idea, or Jen's approach. Often we're unaware of doing it, and we intend no malice. It's a convenience. For many, it's actually a way of acknowledging the contributor, to confer credit. And it usually works well when used that way.
And then there are the other times.
As the discussion turns to the idea's disadvantages, identifying contribution with contributor presents risks. The contributor might experience criticism of the idea as personal criticism, even if the critique isn't offered in that spirit.
In some cases, though, the critique might have been intended to be personal. The criticizer might be using the problem solving exercise as cover for a personal attack. The situation can become ambiguous, complicated, and hostile, jeopardizing possibilities for a constructive outcome. That's one reason why identifying contribution with contributor is risky.
Misidentification is a second risk. We create most contribution-contributor identifications without discussion. Perhaps a facilitator does it, or the first person to use the phrase "Jen's idea," for example. The identification can stick whether or not it's welcome or correct. Others might feel offended if they have a sense of authorship of the contribution, but the idea is named for someone else. And rightly so, since most ideas that arise in group discussions have multiple authors.
Confusion is a third risk. If someone authors multiple contributions, should we number them? Jen's first idea, Jen's second idea, and so on? Usually, we give them names, but we still use the author's name too: Jen's Rotation idea, Jen's FIFO idea, or some such. It's almost as if we want to stay on the risky path.
Formal brainstorming processes deal with these risks by banning criticism altogether. Some brainstorming session designs also ban tagging ideas with their contributors' names. But in other group processes, how can we mitigate identification risk? Here are two suggestions.
- Name the idea impersonally
- As a contributor, We speak of (or think of)
Chet's idea, or Jen's approach.
Often we're unaware of doing it,
and we intend no malice.as the first to reference a contribution, or as facilitator, when referring to a previously mentioned idea, use an impersonal name, and ask the group for approval. For example, "I have a thought about the Rotation idea, where we fill the role of scribe by everyone taking a turn from week to week. Is calling it Rotation OK?"
- As scribe, record the idea with an impersonal name
- When the Scribe, or the Facilitator acting as Scribe, records the contribution on a real or virtual flip chart, the Scribe can also create an impersonal name and check with the group for approval. For example, "Jen, have I captured that idea? And, everyone, is Rotation a good name for it?"
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 Effective Communication at Work:
- There Is No Rumor Mill
- Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually
false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage
- See No Evil
- When teams share information among themselves, they have their best opportunity to reach peak performance.
And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
- Interviewing the Willing: Tactics
- When we need information from each other, even when the source is willing, we sometimes fail to expose
critical facts. Here are some tactics for eliciting information from the willing.
- The Limits of Status Reports: I
- Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including
any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.
- Comfort Zone Discomfort
- The phrase "comfort zone" is a metaphor that can distort how we think about situations in
which we feel comfortable and confident. Here are four examples illustrating how the metaphor distorts
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
- Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
- And on August 28: Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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.