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? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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:
- Saying No
- When we have to say "no" to customers or to people in power, we're often tempted to placate
with a "yes." There's a better way: learn how to say "no" in a way that moves the
group toward joint problem solving.
- Some Truths About Lies: I
- However ethical you might be, you can't control the ethics of others. Can you tell when someone knowingly
tries to mislead you? Here's Part I of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of nonverbal insults.
- Columbo Tactics: II
- This is Part II of a series showing how the less powerful can adapt the tactics of TV detective Lt.
Columbo when they're interacting with the more powerful.
- Monday Morning Minute Message Madness
- As a leader of a large organization, if you publish a "Monday Minute Message" to help employees
identify with the organization as a whole, there are some practices that might limit the effectiveness
of the program. Six suggestions can be helpful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And 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.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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