Organizational Communications & Group Development
Reflection Journal, Owen Ambur, Summer, 2000
● Communication for Business and the Professions, Andrews & Baird
● Organizational Behavior, Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn
● The Cultural Dimensions of International Business, Gary Ferraro
● Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Fisher & Ury
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Week 1
Andrews & Baird (A), Chapter 1; Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn (S), Chapter 16; and Young & Post, Managing to Communicate
The following points highlight the most significant insights that I gleaned during the first week of class, with connections to my real-world experiences drawn as noted:
• Of 11 desirable characteristics for job candidates, employment officers ranked oral communications skills first and written communications skills last. (A, p. 3)
This is disappointing but not surprising. It is a variation on the closely related themes that: a) who one knows is generally more important than what one knows, and b) form is valued over substance. It is also reflected in the distinction between implicit or tacit knowledge versus explicit knowledge as evidenced in records.
• Large businesses are typically comprised of self-guided specialists who act on information supplied by colleagues, customers, and managers. (A, p. 5)
Those who have climbed the organizational hierarchy are often loath to unfetter the creative energies of their subordinates, subject only to customer expectations and reasonable resource constraints. Rather than making such constraints explicit and relying upon the judgment of employees, managers are prone to maintain tight controls on resources, thereby diminishing the potential for employees to exercise creativity in capitalizing on those resources.
• Contemporary communications models emphasize the transactional nature of communications, noting that all persons simultaneously encode and decode messages during communications. (A, pp. 6 & 7)
• People share meaning through mutual experiences and negotiating shared interpretations. (A., p. 7)
• Meaning is determined by the receiver rather than by the sender. (A, p. 7)
This fact is lost on those who fail to recognize that more is learned by listening than by speaking, and that expressing one’s self is not an end unto itself.
• Communication is efficient when messages are transferred at low cost. (S, p. 349)
Current management fads, such as management by walking around (MBWA), tend to overestimate the value and underestimate the opportunity costs associated with such means of communication. Nonetheless, many people are impressed by such means. To the degree that form prevails over substance, and it is possible to fool most of the people most of the time, MBWA and similar tricks may pay dividends in the short run. However, in the long run, no organization can sustain a competitive advantage by such costly, feel-good means of communications.
• Absence of feedback can make it difficult to know whether a message has been accurately received. (S, p. 349)
Too often communicators are more concerned with speaking their mind than in achieving shared understandings. Oral communications serves their purpose better than written communications since it leaves no record and often no ready means of mutually analyzing the truth of each of its elements.
• Interacting groups with decentralized networks tend to perform well on complex tasks, while coacting groups with centralized networks may do well on simple tasks. (S, p. 350) Interacting groups work closely together on tasks. Coacting groups work on tasks independently while linked through some form of central coordination. (S, p. 345)
Too often, groups working on complex tasks are either treated as coacting groups and over-controlled or they are not supplied with the tools to work effectively together via decentralized networks.
• New communication technologies will continue changing the nature of work, particularly office work, and one of the risks associated with such technology is information overload. (S, p. 347)
• Generally, organizations are plagued with too much communication, rather than too little. (A, p. 8)
E-mail has become a major draw on the time of the average office worker and, of course, much of the information that is conveyed is useful. However, it is less than the optimal means of sharing and making explicit the knowledge that people need to perform their jobs effectively and efficiently, which leads into the next point:
• Two of the five causes of communication failure are:
1) No systematic attempt is made to measure whether the intended results are achieved.
2) Managers do not ask what information employees need. (A, pp. 10 & 11)
• Among motivated, goal-directed employees, casual communications can be more important to organizational success than formal channels are. (A, p. 12)
“Casual” is Andrews’ word. The point is well taken with respect to the use of informal channels based upon relationships that are pertinent to the tasks at hand, rather than hierarchies whose primary purpose may be to support themselves (instead of the work processes). However, the efficient and effective use of dynamic networks should not be confused with the casual, undisciplined sharing and use of information. Such confusion invariably leads to the problems highlighted in the following point:
• Problems afflicting downward communications include: a) messages not received, b) information overload, c) organizational bypassing, and d) distortion or filtering. (A, p. 15)
• A manager’s customers are those who work for him or her, and assessment of customer satisfaction is an important element of managerial performance. (A, p. 18)
• Upward communication is subject to substantial distortion because: a) subordinates are reluctant to convey bad news; b) weak supervisors actively discourage upward communications, c) it can be intimidating to supervisors as well as employees, and d) employees may not know that management wants them to communicate upward because no means have been provided to foster it. (A, p. 20)
• Every organization should develop a plan for external communications that is well-coordinated with internal communications, and the impact of external communications should continually be assessed in terms of results in relation to objectives. (A, p. 26)
This principle is routinely being violated in the development and use of intranets versus the Internet by large organizations. Too often, intranets are crafted without regard to what information will be shared with external stakeholders, and Internet postings are made on the whim of Webmasters rather than well-conceived and coordinated organizational communications plans.
• Most employees are involved in several networks at once, and much of what occurs in organizations has more to do with informal relationships rather than the formal hierarchy. (A, p. 27)
• Rumors spread as a function of both their importance and their ambiguity. (A, p. 28)
• Informal communication often damages formal communications through inaccuracies and distortions. (A, p. 30)
• Actions speak louder than words. The implicit messages often contradict the official messages conveyed in formal communications. (Y, factor 2)
• Responsibility for effective communication is shared by everyone in the organization, rather than centralized among managers. (Y, factor 5)
Employees often take the communications failures of their managers as excuses for failure to strive for excellence within their own spheres of influence. For that reason, in my study group, I suggested that we exclude Young’s first principle – the CEO as head cheerleader – from our list of the top four factors for the effectiveness of organizational communication. However, in our culture the need for organizational heros and saviors is still very strong, notwithstanding all of the lip service paid to democracy, flattening of hierarchies, and power to the people. The bottom line is that many people simply are not ready and don’t wish to accept the responsibility and risk of failure that accompanies empowerment.
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Week 2
Andrews & Baird (A), Chapter 2; Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn (S), Chapter 13; and culture and communications in my own organization.
During the second week of class the most insightful points that I have noted include:
• Organizations are rich with sagas – heroic accounts of accomplishments – and they are used to apprise new members of the mission of the organization, how it operates, and how they can fit into it. Rarely, however, are such stories accurate and they often gloss over negative aspects. (S, p. 270)
While such stories may make good “copy,” lively conversation, and enjoyable entertainment, in essence they demean the professionalism of the people involved in work processes since they imply the acceptance of something less than the truth. As with the separation of church and state, prudence and productivity would suggest clear demarcation of the real from the surreal. Mythology may have sufficiently supported the relatively meager existence of human beings throughout history. However, the degree to which it will sustain organizations – in cult-like fashion – in the future is questionable.
• An organization’s management philosophy: 1) establishes generally understood boundaries, 2) provides a consistent way of approaching novel situations, and 3) helps hold individuals together by providing a commonly accepted path to success. Effective management philosophies liberate individuals to innovate with managerial constraints. (S, p. 272)
• Elements of the management philosophy may be formally documented but the unstated, well-understood fundamentals form the core of a well-developed management philosophy. (S, p. 272)
In their use of the words may and unstated, the authors understate the argument and unwittingly make the case for an organization at a low level of organizational maturity. Reference the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and ISO 9000.
• Management philosophy is often supported by organizational myths – unproven and sometimes unstated beliefs that are accepted uncritically. They may redefine difficult problems in manageable terms, thereby facilitating experimentation and enabling managers to govern. (S, p. 273)
Hero worship has characterized the eras of history pre-dating information age. Heros and myths may continue to hold sway over the untrammeled masses as we enter the new millennium. However, their grasp on the intelligentsia has never been strong and will become even less so in the future.
• It is difficult, if not impossible, to change employees’ values without first recognizing the importance of individuals and changing the organization’s operational procedures. Values cannot be dictated; they emerge and are not necessarily universally shared across organizations. (S, p. 275)
• Organizational Development (OD) is a comprehensive approach to planning change to optimize organizational effectiveness by: 1) establishing an open, problem-solving environment, 2) leveraging authority by emphasizing knowledge and competence, 3) vesting decision-making authority in those who possess the relevant information, 4) building trust and maximizing collaboration, 5) increasing the sense of organizational “ownership” among members, and 6) empowering people to exercise self-direction and self-control. (S, pp. 276 & 277)
• The classical school of organizational theory, epitomized by Frederick Taylor, emphasized structure and mechanization. Taylor’s time-and-motion studies endeavored to break work down into its smallest components and match each worker to the task he or she could most efficiently perform. He believe in instilling competition within organizations and rewarding individual outputs, and he saw no particular conflict between the interests of the organization and its workers. (A, p. 43)
It will be ironic if the networking capabilities of the cyberage result in renewal of some of the principles of the classical school by obviating the need for many of the artificial and arbitrary organizational constructs that stand between suppliers and customers in each minute segment of the value chain. It has been said that “the computer is the network.” It might also be said that the network is the organization. As a network of networks, the Internet has already changed organizations is ways no one could have imagined a few short years ago. What the future holds is equally unknown. However, it definitely will be different, and in the light of an open and dynamic network, the classical principles take on a much different hue than in the rigid hierarchies of the past.
• Katz and Kahn conceive of organizations as open systems, and that the lines between them and their constituencies and environments are highly malleable. By their very nature, organizations are always involved in transformation processes to fill voids and meet perceived needs. (A, p. 49)
The Internet is not yet “open” and dynamic enough to eliminate the need for more traditional organizations in transformation processes. However, it has generated enough glimmers of the future so as to enable us to begin to contemplate the dimensions (of lack thereof) of the future.
• The energy organizations draw from their environments is called inputs, and the use of all inputs should effectively reflect the goals of the organization. When organizations produce outputs that fail to reflect their goals, they lack accountability. Accountability requires that transformations occur within an organizational structure. (A, p. 49)
The primary objective of any organization is to sustain itself, which may or may not be consistent with the interests of any of its stakeholders at any particular point in time. Moreover, organizational constructs insulate individuals from accountability, often as a matter of law. Thus, by their very nature, organizations foster inefficiency and diminish accountability. In this imperfect world, those may be necessary tradeoffs in order to apply energy and align resources toward desired results. However, the cause of the greatest good for the greatest number requires continuous reevaluation of old assumptions.
• Current management philosophy suggests that organizational productivity is a function of communication in all direction – upward, downward, and laterally – and such communication is considered to be embodied in work teams. (A, p. 53)
In effect, teams have become the new form of bureaucracy violating Katz and Kahn’s principle of open systems. What will be interesting to see is whether the open-systems movement in software development leads enlightened human beings to understand that their interests, as well as the interests of all, are best served through a neo-Taylorian philosophy applied in the tools of the cyberage. In short, standards and capabilities such as those afforded by the Internet and the World Wide Web are inexorably freeing individuals from the bonds and artificial constraints of organizations, including those euphemistically called “teams”.
• Communication cuts across formal organizational boundaries, occurring between people directly involved in getting the work done. (A, p. 55)
This principle applies equally to the new bureaucracies (teams) as to the old. The distinctions between the new and old bureaucracies are a matter of degree (i.e., quantitative rather than qualitative differences). Teams may be more dynamic than hierarchies, for example, but they may also be less effective for some purposes. The point is, no arbitrary form or boundary can capture the full essence of reality nor the communications channels required to deal with it.
• Successful organizations will be characterized by “voluntary learning networks” comprised of informal contacts, democratic self-rule, limited corporate government, and widely distributed decision-making. (A, p. 59)
Ultimately, successful organizations will put themselves out of business by enabling and empowering their constituencies to serve their own interests.
• Integrity is the ability to communicate the truth, whatever it might be. (A, p. 65)
Unfortunately, our culture still leaves a great deal to be desired in this regard. Some may believe that human nature is incapable of achieving anything close to the ideal. However, others still harbor hope that “the truth will [indeed] set us free.” Those in the former category are doomed to a life of relative meaninglessness, whereas those of us in the latter category have a mission that will always sustain us in this life.
• Organizations should pay less attention to impression management. (A, p. 68)
Amen! Let the facts speak for themselves.
• The four dimensions of empowerment are: impact, choice, competence, and meaningfulness. Impact means making a difference. Choice means self-direction and self-determination. Competence means skill, knowledge, experience, and other pertinent qualifications. Meaningfulness means harmony with one’s own beliefs, ideals, and standards. (A, p. 69)
By definition, conformance to any organizational imperatives and constructs that conflict with one’s own values leads toward meaninglessness. It is an imperfect world in which we live. However, we need not be doomed to failure to learn to strive toward lesser degrees of imperfection.
• To support their vision of the new horizontal corporation, McKinsey and Company recommend restructuring appraisal, pay, and budgeting systems and linking them to customer satisfaction. (A, p. 73)
Everyone is a customer and we are all members of corporate humanity. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to contemplate the future of our associations are fortunate indeed..
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Week 3
Ferraro, Chapters 1 - 4
Key points that I have gleaned from chapters 2, 3, and 4 of Gary Ferraro’s book, The Cultural Dimensions of International Business, include:
• Notwithstanding the view that the world is shrinking to a “global village,” no significant degree of cultural homogenization of world populations has occurred. However, the world’s myriad cultures are becoming increasingly more interdependent. (p. 9)
From a humanistic point of view, this is a good point for those of us who are caught up in a high-tech society to keep in mind, but the question is what, if anything it means to us, and that is a highly loaded (values-driven) question. The fact is that technology is based upon scientific principles that are universal in nature. Thus, those of us who are more prone to the use of technology are inevitably drawing closer to each other. That is, we are sharing more cultural objects.
There may be no need for all of us to conform to a complete constellation of shared beliefs. Indeed, as objects become more commonplace, other cultural differences may be more highly valued. Moreover, there may be no need for more primitive societies to adopt technologies in order merely to survive. However, to the degree that we wish to share in the benefits of the advancement of science, we must surely coalesce around the same set of explicit knowledge. Of course, too, there is the issue of whether more advanced societies will continue to tolerate what they perceive to be the weaknesses and failures of those considered to be less fortunate and/or of inferior moral authority.
• Culture may be defined as “everything that people have, think, and do as members of their society.” Thus, by definition, culture is shared by two or more people and is comprised of: 1) material objects; 2) ideas, values, and attitudes; and 3) normative or expected patterns of behavior. (p. 16)
• Each culture has evolved different solutions to universal human problems facing all societies, and the great diversity among cultures demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of humans relative to lesser animals. (p. 22)
This is a reflection of the fact that reality is filtered through the perceptions of each individual human being. All animals, including humans, have basic needs that must be met by means that meet fairly exacting standards. However, beyond the basic requirements for life, what may be perceived to be a problem by one person may be acceptable to another. Indeed, it might be said that the variances in the way that people identify problems and their solutions is the essence of culture. For human beings, life would be rather boring without such differences. They provide the spice of life and give meaning to individuals, by enabling them literally and figuratively to “make a difference”. To the degree that cultural differences are unrelated to the basic necessities, they are cause for celebration. However, to the extent that they impinge upon the necessities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they are cause for conflict, including mortal combat.
• Rather than expecting each child to rediscover knowledge, each society must have an organized way of passing its cultural heritage to the next generation, which gives rise to some form of educational system in every society. (p. 24)
• Societies must develop systems for explaining inexplicably occurrences. Thus, all societies have systems of supernatural beliefs. (p. 24)
Societies whose educational system does not teach the scientific method, as well as individuals who fail to accept the rigor that it requires, have greater needs for short-hand solutions, including simply adopting the beliefs of someone else. Indeed, since it is impossible for each of us to scientifically test each hypothesis, acceptance of the truth of assertions made by others is a necessity of life. However, it is possible and highly desirable to insist that the means by which others discover, assert, and share “truths” about the physical world are based upon scientifically valid principles, thereby drawing a clear line of demarcation between knowledge of that which can be know versus belief in that which must be either rejected or accepted on faith. One step that should be taken toward that end is to debunk the worship of tacit knowledge that prevails in so much of the current literature on knowledge management.
• Although small-scale, technologically simple, preliterate societies tend to be more conservative, to some degree change occurs in all societies. However, it occurs much more rapidly in modern, highly complex societies. (p. 25)
The more we learn, the more we understand how much we do not know. At the same time, those who are capable of drawing a clear distinction between scientifically established fact versus belief are thereby released from the fear of the unknown so as to be able to pursue with glee that which it is possible to know in this world.
• Regardless of the importance of discovery and invention within societies, most innovations are borrowed from other cultures in a process known as cultural diffusion. Cultural anthropologists generally agree that as much as 90 percent of the objects, ideas, and behavioral patterns in any culture originated elsewhere. (p. 25)
More technologically advanced societies are unencumbered with the burden of having to reinvent solutions that have been proven elsewhere, since they are free of the burden of having to reconcile with their own irrational beliefs the concepts that have been shown by others to have utility to human beings. On the other hand, another problem is the difficulty in sorting through promotional hype, including push technology such as advertizing, to get to the truth of the matter with respect to the actual utility of myriad products and services relative to reasonable substitutes.
• Some cultural traits are more easily diffused than others. For example, technology is more likely to be borrowed because the benefits of doing so are more readily apparent than with social patterns or beliefs. (p. 28)
Technology exists in the physical world and thus is subject to standards, constraints, and the scientific method. While there may be multiple technological solutions to any problem, ultimately, when the full truth is know, one is superior to all others. The same is not true in the realm of the unknown and unknowable, where beliefs are the only possible solution and beliefs are fungible.
• While ethnocentrism can lead us to false conclusions about others, it is a natural byproduct of growing up in a society. It may be essential to group solidarity. However, we should be aware of it so as to avoid needless impediments to the realization of mutually beneficial results across cultural boundaries. (p. 32)
In particular, we should draw clear distinctions between the factual information and scientifically based technology required to support basic, physical human needs versus emotional needs that may be equally well-served by myriad solutions.
• The introduction of a single technology may set off a large series of related changes. (p. 35)
• Cultural anthropologists draw a distinction between ideal behavior – what society says people should do – and what they actually do. (p. 37)
Again, to the degree that behavior relates to basic physical needs (e.g., breathing and pumping of blood) far greater adherence to the ideal is required than in the realm of emotional needs and beliefs.
• Language establishes categories in our mind that force us to distinguish things that are similar from those that are different. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that language is not merely a mechanism for communicating but also shapes ideas. However, scholarly consensus is lacking on the validity of the hypothesis. (pp. 48 & 49)
A very contemporary variation on this theme is whether the lyrics of songs and the presentations displayed in movies and video games affect the behavior of young people, particularly with respect to violence.
• Cultures vary in the degree of specificity in their verbal messages. In the United States, for example, effective verbal communication is expected to be explicit, direct, and unambiguous. (p. 51)
This may be a reflection of the melting pot that comprises the U.S. population, in which implicit messages might be lost in the diversity of cultures embodied in our society. It may also result from our relative degree of scientific and technological advancement.
• In Hall’s conceptualization of high-context cultures most of the message is embedded in the physical context or internalized in the people, while relatively little is in the explicit, coded portion of the message. Communicators use restricted codes and rely on contextual cues, demonstrating inexact, implicit, and indirect communication patterns. Conversely, in low-context cultures rely on elaborated verbal messages and demonstrate precise, explicit, and straightforward communication patterns. (p. 52)
By definition, technology embeds knowledge and thereby frees human beings from having to assimilate it within the confines of their skulls. To the degree that information is not embedded in technology but must be shared among people, it must either be inculcated by socialization or explicitly conveyed in each transaction. Efficiency and effectiveness of business transactions can be served by embedding as much of the necessary information as possible in the technology itself, while making all of the rest of it as explicit as possible. Doing so will minimize the amount of resources required to successfully complete the business transaction, thereby freeing up other resources (e.g., time) for “higher order” activities (e.g., relaxation and entertainment) beyond the necessities of life.
• Many Asian cultures are skeptical of verbal messages and are keenly aware of the limitations of words. Negative verbal messages may be suppressed, and politeness and the desire to avoid embarrassment may take precedence over the truth. (p. 53)
Actions do indeed speak louder than words, and knowledge embedded in technology vastly magnifies the potency of human actions. On the other hand, the pursuit of truth and effective action is not well served by lack of candor, even if it is based upon the hope and expectation that the intended recipient of the message will assimilate the knowledge that is implicit to understanding the sender’s intent.
• Both explicit as well as implicit styles of communication may lead to miscommunication, particularly when practitioners of each style interact with one another. Explicit communicators may view implicit communicators as tricky, deceptive, lacking integrity, and wasteful of time by failing to “come to the point”. On the other hand implicit communicators may view explicit communicators as rude, course, insensitive, and perhaps unintelligent. (p. 54)
• Exaggeration may play a cathartic role in some cultures, but in linguistic terms overassertion is merely another form of verbal ambiguity because it fails to convey direct, precise messages. (p. 55)
• Gender differences are common in communications styles. For example, in the United States, women speak less forcefully than men and use more qualifiers. They also talk for the purpose of building rapport whereas men speak to assert themselves. Women use self-disclosure as a means to learn about others, while men tend to avoid self-disclosure. Women show support by expressing understanding, whereas men show support by offering advice or solving problems. (p. 57 & 58)
Discussion of gender differences is beyond the scope of this discourse. However, it is interesting to note on the one hand that women embody the basic physical requirements to nurture the beginning of life, while men embody attributes to more aggressively advance the cause of the physical requirements of life beyond infancy. As a matter of generalities, it is also interesting to note that women tend to be better at resolving implicit, emotional issues whereas men may be more adept at resolving physical problems.
• Anthropological linguists point out that it is important to know not only the structure of language (vocabulary and grammar) but also how it is used in different social contexts, i.e., the ethnography of speaking. (p. 58)
• Many slang words are incorporated into standard language after a relatively short period of time. However, they start out informally and characteristically are more metaphorical, playful, indirect, and vivid than standard language. (p. 59)
Technology feeds on itself, embedding ideas while also speeding the spread of new ideas. It also affords human beings the opportunity to test and explore new ideas without risking loss of ability to sustain the basic requirements of life.
• Taboo words that are considered to express thoughts that are too direct, harsh, or blunt are expressed in euphemistic terms that are more bland, vague, or indirect. However, words that express thoughts repugnant in one culture may be perfectly acceptable in another. (p. 59)
• Frequently, it is impossible to translate ideas from one language to another without loss of some meaning. The use of slang and euphemisms complicates cross cultural communication. (p. 62)
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Installment 4
Fisher & Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
I first read this book in the 1980's, while working on Capitol Hill. I read the second edition in preparation for this class. Here are some of the key points that I have noted:
• Negotiation is a basic means of getting what you want from others. It is a back-and-forth communication designed to reach agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shared and others that are opposed.... Everyone wants to participate in decisions that affect them; fewer and fewer people will accept decisions dictated by someone else. (p. XVII)
Technology increases the ability of people to affect others, and technology is the only way that individuals can be effectively empowered participate in decisions that can now be made by others at cyberspeed.
• Principled negotiation ... is to decide issues on their merits rather than through a haggling process focused on what each side says it will and won’t do. (p. XVIII)
Another way of stating this point is that the factual bases of the issues as well as the interests of the parties involved should be made explicit, in rational rather than emotional terms.
• Insist that the results be based upon some objective standard. (p. 11)
This is another way of saying that the criterion by which the results will be measured must be made explicit among the parties.
• ... people... desire to feel good about themselves, and their concern for what others will think ... can often make them more sensitive to another negotiator’s interests... they frequently confuse their perceptions with reality. (p. 19)
By definition, perceptions are implicit unless and until they are explicitly shared. Implicit (called “tacit”) knowledge is irrefutable unless and until it is made explicit.
• ... people draw from comments on substance unfounded inferences which they treat as facts about [another] person’s intentions and attitudes toward them. (p. 20)
• Ultimately ... conflict lies not in objective reality, but in people’s heads. Truth is simply one more argument – perhaps a good one, perhaps not – for dealing with the difference. The difference itself exists ... in their thinking. (p. 22)
• Even if blaming is justified, it is usually counterproductive. (p. 25)
• Face-saving reflects a person’s need to reconcile the stand he takes in negotiation or an agreement with his principles and with his past words and deeds.
Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance is useful in understanding this dynamic.
• Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate. (p. 30)
• Whatever you say ... expect that the other side will almost always hear something different. (p. 32)
• Frequently, each side has given up on the other and is no longer attempting any serious communication with it. Instead, they talk merely to impress third parties or their own constituency. (p. 32)
• Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide. (p. 41)
This assumes that one truly understands and is also prepared to act in one’s own best interests. In many, perhaps most cases that may not be true. Even if one understands the realities involved, one may not be sufficiently committed to act on them.
• ... giving support to the human beings on the other side tends to improve your relationship and to increase the likelihood of reaching agreement. It is the combination of support and attack which works; either alone is likely to be insufficient. (p. 55)
This sounds rather Machiavellian, or at least like the good-cop/bad-cop routine rolled up into one split personality. However, in my experience it rings true. In fact, based upon anecdotal evidence, I believe that many people – particularly those in large, government bureaucracies – are either too timid or too apathetic to engage in the kind of rough-and-tumble “push-back” that Savage (5th Generation Management) suggests is vital to discovery of truth. My interpretation is that they are unwilling to expose their tacit “knowledge” to the rigor and risk of “deep dialog” (Simmons, A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths) when their paycheck doesn’t depend upon it.
Incidentally, Fisher and Ury discuss the good-guy/bad-guy routine on page 136, as a form of psychological manipulation against which one can insulate one’s self by recognizing it for what it is. However, they also note that good negotiators rarely resort to threats, and that they don’t need to do so because there are other ways to communicate the same information, e.g., by warning of legitimate threats. (p. 137)
• Successful negotiation requires being both firm and open. (p. 55)
• In most negotiations, there are four major obstacles that inhibit the inventing of an abundance of options: 1) premature judgment; 2) searching for the single answer; 3) the assumption of a fixed pie; and 4) thinking that “solving their problem is their problem.” (p. 57)
• Nothing is so harmful to inventing as a critical sense waiting to pounce on the drawbacks of any new idea. Judgment hinders imagination. (p. 58)
• Discussing options differs radically from taking positions... options invite other options. The very language ... differs. It consists of questions, not assertions; it is open, not closed. (p. 65)
• ... a satisfactory agreement is made possible because each side wants different things... This is genuinely startling if you think about it. People generally assume that differences between two parties create problems. Yet differences can also lead to solutions. (p. 73)
• Many creative agreements reflect this principle of reaching agreement through differences. Differences in interests and belief make it possible for an item to be high benefit to you, yet low cost to the other side. (p. 74)
• However complex the other side’s decisional process may seem, you will understand it better if you pick one person – probably the person with whom you are dealing – and see the how the problem looks from his or her point of view. (p. 77)
• You may come to understand your negotiating role in a new light, and see your job ... as strengthening [the other] person’s hand or giving her arguments that she will need to persuade others to go along. (p. 77)
• Many negotiators are uncertain whether they are asking for words or performance. (p. 77)
• It is never too early in negotiations to start drafting as an aid to clear thinking. (p. 78)
This is another way of saying that implicit knowledge should be made explicit, in the form of documentation that can be readily reused and subjected to push-back in order to discover truth, even if it is only for one’s self.
• Prepare multiple versions, starting with the simplest possible. (p. 78)
Note: Version control is one of the basic functions of electronic document management systems, and WebDAV is taking collaborative authoring to the Internet. (WebDAV stands for Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning.)
• Few things facilitate a decision as much as precedent [which] provides an objective standard. (p. 78)
Again, the use of explicit knowledge (i.e., a known and preferably a well-documented precedent) is key. Precedent is knowledge reused. Often parties to negotiations are not nearly so concerned about the particulars of the deal as they are with being comfortable with it. That is, they do not want to subject themselves to cognitive dissonance at the prospect of having been played for the fool.
• What can you invent that might be attractive to them but low in cost to yourself? (p. 79)
• ... negotiate on some basis independent of the will of either side – that is, on the basis of objective criteria. (p. 82)
By definition, objective criteria are explicit, i.e., rendered in the world rather than merely in people’s heads. There must be a means of measuring them and repeating the results.
• What makes conceding particularly difficult is having to accept someone else’s proposal. If they suggest a standard, their deferring to it is not an act of weakness but an act of strength... (p. 89)
A standard is explicit knowledge relevant to the parameters in question.
• The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating... your BATNA – your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement ... is the standard against which any proposed agreement should be measured. (p. 100)
• ... a natural third party may be a participant whose interests ... lie more in effecting an agreement than in affecting the particular terms. (p. 115)
• You do not have to get anyone’s consent to start using the one-text procedure. Simply prepare a draft and ask for criticism... you can change the game simply by starting to play the new one. Even if the other side is not willing to talk to you directly (or vice versa), a third party can take a draft around. (p. 116)
This is the way that negotiations are routinely and universally conducted in legislative bodies. Of course, a great deal of other types of communication occur. However, the focal point for discussion is always a document drafted by one or more “sponsors”.
Incidentally, I used the one-text approach in the first study group assignment for this class, and my teammates thanked me for it.
In my view, far too much time and effort is wasted in other forms of so-called collaborative communications before someone gets to the point, which is generally to draft a document rendering explicit the most cogent set of facts and supportive rhetoric pertinent to the issue at hand.
• Statements of fact can be threatening. Whenever you can, ask a question instead. (p. 122)
• The trickiest part of the message to communicate is the alternative if no agreement is reached ... [It should be based upon objective principle, such as legal authority.] (p. 126)
• Deal rationally with apparent irrationality. Much – perhaps most – behavior in the world is not very rational. (p. 160)
This would be a good point on which to end, because it rather nicely sums up both the problem and its solution. Nevertheless, Fisher and Ury make several other points that are important to note:
• Sometimes people seem to prefer feeling powerless and believing that there is nothing they can do to affect a situation. That belief helps them avoid feeling responsible or guilty about inaction. It also avoids the costs of trying to change the situation – making an effort and risking failure, which might cause the person embarrassment.
In other words, human beings are loath to make explicit information that may cause them to suffer cognitive dissonance. Human beings in large bureaucracies insulated from the rigors of the marketplace may be especially prone to this syndrome because of the incentives, or lack thereof, endemic to their culture and work environments.
• The more concrete the offer, the more persuasive... a written offer may be more credible than an oral one. (p. 185)
• ... think through the precise terms of the commitment you want the other side to make... avoid a sloppy commitment that is overbroad, fails to bind the other side, leaves out crucial information, or is not operational. Especially when you want the other side to do something, it makes sense to tell them exactly what it is that you want them to do. (p. 186)
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Installment 5
Andrews & Baird, Chapter 3
Here are the points with which I am most impressed in chapter 3:
• Ethics ... is the awareness of that one is an intrinsic part of a social order, in which the interests of others and one’s own interests are inevitably intertwined. (p. 83)
The Internet and World Wide Web are interesting manifestations of this theme. The Internet is a network of interconnected networks, and the Web is the representation of people and organizations in hyperlinked documentation. The hyperlinks intertwine such representations with one another, providing a sort of social order representing common and related interests. The Net will mature into a far more dynamic representation of such interests, thereby obviating the need for many organizational intermediaries. One the topics that I’d like to explore in greater depth, if and when time permits, is the implications relative to the theory of the firm.
• A 1994 Gallup Poll found that only government ranks lower than corporations in perceived trustworthiness. (p. 83)
My presentation to the Northern Virginia chapter of the American Records Managers Association on the Ides of March, entitled “Et Tu, Uncle Sammie,” is relevant to this finding. It is available at: http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/index.html. It challenges records managers to rise above the Lewinsky culture and reject the “Capone Consultancy Method” of records management.
• Ironically, all of this is happening despite increasing efforts among American corporations to improve ethical behaviors... companies have created ombudspersons positions, confidential hot lines, and other mechanisms whereby employees can safely report unethical behaviors. Yet the problem persists, and is growing worse. (p. 83)
This suggests that we ought to do something different, unless we are satisfied to get the same results we’ve always gotten (or worse). In my view, the best and easiest thing that organizations can do is simply to start managing as organizational assets the myriad E-records that their employees are now generating in the routine course of their business processes. It is virtually unfathomable to me that organizational leaders are too blind to see the need and potential. As indicated in my ARMA presentation, I suspect that factors other than ignorance play significant roles.
• An organization’s culture can be extremely influential in shaping the ethical – or unethical – behavior of its members. (p. 84)
The results that are apparent in daily news reports speak poorly of many, if most organizations in this respect.
• ... 35 percent of employers use surveillance tactics that may include reading e-mail. The courts have upheld employers’ rights to conduct such snooping. (p. 91)
From their choice of words, one might infer that the authors see something wrong with this. It calls to mind the admonition to: “smile; it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.” Why would employees not want their employers to “know what they know.” Isn’t that the essence of the twin challenges of “knowledge management” and organizational efficiency in the cyberage? Why would the authors use the pejorative term “snooping” to characterize this activity? Could it be that they have bought into a cultural bias that winks at, if not condones unethical behavior? Or is it simply a reflection of their tacit admission of the inherent moral bankruptcy of many, if not most of today’s organizations that “employ” people. Perhaps it is not just organizations but the very theory of “employment” that should be reevaluated.
• Are rules supposed to be obeyed ... Or are they merely ideals meant to be honored in the abstract but not feasible in many situations ...? (p. 95)
In other words, do the ends justify the means? Or is there some set of principles that should not be violated with impunity? If not, what is the standard by which behavior is to be judged? Whatever feels good at the time? On the other hand, who determines what the rules are and how many are enough? The organizations that employ people? We the people of the United States of America, for example, pride ourselves on being a nation that abides by the rule of law. Congress and the Courts decide what the rules are supposed to be, but enforcement is a major problem. With more people incarcerated by far than any other nation, it is legitimate to ask whether we have too many rules. Yet what is the message that is communicated when rules are removed? Perhaps it might be more beneficial to look at the cultural factors that contribute to law-breaking.
• ... if you behave unethically and get away with it (or even gain some short-term profit from it), you become more likely to continue your unethical behaviors and to promote such behaviors by others. (p. 97)
You are more likely to engage in unethical behavior if you lack character and you also believe you can get away with it because your actions create no discoverable explicit knowledge (evidence, i.e., records) or you believe you can effectively “cover your tracks.” In the close knit families and small communities of the past, where everyone knew everyone else’s business, that was very difficult to do. (I grew up in such a community.) In addition, business is conducted on a far more personal basis, because the participants do know a great deal about each other. Perhaps we ought to aim to re-create such an environment in the cyber-communities of today. Technology affords the potential. Of course there are legitimate concerns about how it might be applied against the interests of the individual. However, those concerns may be overplayed relative to the interests of all of us to know our business partners, and the longer-term self-interest of each of us in being held accountable for our actions.
• ... the universalist perspective holds that because outcomes are too difficult to predict or control, we should focus on intent. (p. 100)
This is not a bad philosophy. It is reflected in our criminal code and, certainly, there are circumstances beyond the control of any of us. However, current trends in management philosophy are running in the opposite direction – to focus far more intensively upon outcomes. In a competitive marketplace, intent is for naught and results speak for themselves. Likewise, the Government Performance and Results Act requires agencies to link outputs and outcomes to their goals, objectives, and inputs. In large bureaucracies, focusing solely on intent is a prescription for inefficiency, if not outright failure.
(I am reminded of a paper I wrote for the Congressional Joint Economic Committee in the mid-1980's, entitled “Selling Out the Family Farm: A Classic Case of Good Intentions Gone Awry.” It demonstrated statistical fact that, in the name of saving the family farm, sufficient funding was given to the larger farmers to buy out all of the smaller farms that were beset with high debt.)
• Haiman believes that the development of the human capacity to reason is a goal to which our American society is inherently committed and labels as unethical any behavior or technique that attempts to circumvent or demean the individual’s ability to reason. (p. 101)
This is one of the insidious, unrecognized effects that seems to result from the groupthink that not only afflicts small work groups (Andrews & Baird, pp. 374 - 376) but may even be celebrated in the culture of large organizations. It has been said that an informed citizenry is a prerequisite for democracy, but equally important is the need for individuals to exercise independent judgment in applying the power of reason to what they see and hear. Couching this issue in terms of ethics, as Haiman has, is insightful.
• ... when people communicate from a dialogic perspective, their attitudes are characterized by honesty, trust, concern for others, open-mindedness, empathy, humility, sincerity, and directness... Communication as monologue, on the other hand, is characterized by such qualities as deception, superiority, exploitation, domination, insincerity, distrust, and so forth. Freedom of expression is stifled, and others are viewed as objects to be manipulated. (p. 101)
This too is insightful. Annette Simmons makes similar points in her book entitled “A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths: Using Dialogue to Overcome Fear and Distrust at Work.” In my remarks to ARMA, I asked the question, “Would you trust someone whose avowed policy is to deceive you?” (i.e., by keeping two sets of records, one created by the actual business process and anther to be “declared” as the “official” record) If we have conducted ourselves honorably, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. However, I fear that the corrupting influences of the cultures of our organizations leaves too many employees with too much to fear from the truth.
• F.G. Bailey argues ... “no leader can survive as a leader without deceiving others (followers no less than opponents) and without deliberately doing to others what he would prefer not to have done to himself. (p. 102)
This is a cynical stereotype. However, as with any generality, it contains a grain of truth – a reality that points to the need to reevaluate the role of leaders and how we evaluate and use information. Information technology holds the potential to disintermediate many of the traditional roles in supply chains, including those played by corporate and political “leaders” in policy-related value chains.
• ... improved ethics [come] from recognizing that problems in the corporate world are often systemic and not the result of a few bad apples ... A company that finds a way to change the system so people can be influenced to act ethically and responsibly is far more likely to succeed. (p. 108)
Again, this point reinforces the need to continually reevaluate our systems, i.e., the organizational constructs within which people add value to business processes.
• As Weiss notes, “values cannot be taught, they must be lived.” People emulate what they see, not what they are told. (p. 110)
Corporate leaders must walk the talk, and they must not be seen as getting away with behavior considered to be nominally unethical by the society at large. However, at the same time, it should be recognized that we are fortunate enough to live in a time and place where the requisites of life are no longer directly tied to the expediencies of business processes. To put it colloquially, we don’t need to run over our neighbor to beat him or her to the sustenance of life. Thus, given the opportunity, it is incumbent upon us to rise above our baser instincts and conduct our lives on a higher moral plane, one that is supported by reason and fact.
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Installment 6
In terms of background, Musselwhite says:
• ... the FIRO-B [is] one of the most widely used interpersonal questionnaires in the world. (p. 2)
• The FIRO-B doesn’t really “measure” anything. It provides scores that estimate the levels of behavior with which we – as unique individuals – feel comfortable (or “correct”) with regard to our needs for Inclusion, our needs for Control, and our needs for Affection. (p. 2)
• ... much of the behavior we exhibit toward others is motivated by our differing levels of needs for these three interpersonal dimensions. (p. 2)
• One of the most useful things the FIRO-B provides is the division of each interpersonal dimension into a) what behavior we feel to be most comfortable and correct for us to exhibit toward other people, and b) what behavior we want from other people. (p. 3)
• ... the degree to which an interpersonal relationship is mutually successful tends to reflect the degree to which the relationship provides ... the levels of Inclusion, Control, and Affection that each person prefers. (p. 4)
• ... unless we see our levels of need for each interpersonal dimension as a personal preference, rather than as a universal “good” or “bad” level, we will fall into a blaming, attacking, or retreating role with others when a preferred level of need is not being met. (p. 4)
• [Taking] a one-up or one-down posture toward those who aren’t “doing right by us”... rarely succeeds; most often it drives wedges ... and makes it even more difficult for us to get our needs met. (p. 4)
• ... unless we have some understanding of what we want from others ... it is all too easy to miss important opportunities to build and maintain relationships that could be satisfying for everyone concerned. (p. 4)
Musselwhite says respondents can “stake out” their “behavior territory” by asking themselves a series of questions. Those that seem most pertinent to me, and my responses to them, are as follows:
• How much do I demonstrate team-building or people-connecting behavior?
This question falls under the FIRO-B’s dimension of Expressed Inclusion, on which my score was 3. Musselwhite says scores of 2 and 3 are low, meaning that the behavior will not be characteristic. For me, I would say that is generally true on this dimension. In particular, I do not care to spend my time and effort building teams simply for their own sake. For me, teams are means to ends rather than ends unto themselves. In a sense, teams are the neo-bureaucracies, reflecting the “in” organizational management fad.
So does that mean I think people are a means to an end also? Certainly, relationships between and among people are. Deep and longer-term relationships should not be entered lightly. We should aim to engage in such relationships only those who have the attributes required or desired and, thus, by virtue of those attributes are well-qualified to support the relationship. In earlier, less mobile and technologically advanced times, most of our “connections” to people were pre-established for us.
• How much do I demonstrate a sense of community in my behavior?
This question also falls under the dimension of Expressed Inclusion, meaning that my relatively low score of 3 suggests that I do not characteristically demonstrate communitarian behavior. As suggested in my commentary immediately above, the question I would ask is, “To what end is the desired sense of community directed?” In other words, the objectives should be made explicit. I interpret fuzzy logic and assumptions of implicit knowledge in support of a communitarian position as simple reflections of the desire for someone else to exert control over me, another dimension of the FIRO-B on which my score is relatively low.
On the other hand, I would note that one of my undergraduate majors was sociology and that my more recent intellectual pursuits include the following books, which I have just pulled from my personal library shelves to cite herein:
Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare
From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America
Haves Without Have-Nots: Essays for the 21st Century on Democracy and Socialism
Dollars and Dreams: The Changing American Income Distribution
The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society
The author of the latter book, published in 1993, is Amitai Etzioni, founder of the Communitarian movement. Among the most cogent points he makes are the following:
A Communitarian perspective does not dictate particular policies. Rather, it mandates attention to what is often ignored in contemporary policy debates: the social side of human nature; the responsibilities that must be borne by citizens, individually and collectively ... (p. 254)
... divergent moral positions need not lead to cacophony. Out of genuine dialogue clear voices can arise, and shared aspirations can be identified and advanced. Communitarians favor strong democracy. That is, we seek to make government more representative, more participatory, and more responsive to all members of the community. We seek to find ways to accord citizens more information and more say, more often. (p. 255)
Being informed about public affair is a prerequisite for keeping the policy from being controlled by demagogues, for taking action when needed in one’s own interests and that of others, for achieving justice and the shared future. (p. 261)
At the heart of the Communitarian understanding of social justice is the idea of reciprocity: each member of the community owes something to all the rest, and the community owes something to each of its members. (p. 263)
... the responsive community is the best form of human organization yet devised for respecting human dignity and safeguarding human decency and the way of life most open to needed self-revision through shared deliberation. (p. 265)
While I consider the latter two comments to be indications of the fuzziness of Etzioni logic, I strongly concur in the general thrusts of his philosophy. What is lacking is the rigorous push-back required to render explicit the assumptions that are implicit in the rhetoric. In particular, rather than assuming some general, ill-defined debt owed to society by each individual and, in turn, some fuzzy obligation of society to each individual, the exact nature and values of those transactions should be defined.
More specifically, social “obligations” should be defined “through shared deliberations” rendered explicit in well-managed, securely preserved electronic records that may be readily discovered, accessed, and shared. In fact, that is a fairly apt description of electronic commerce, and commerce defines the border between social wishes and desires versus “social” obligations. (This is a topic that warrants far more explication and push-back than appropriate for this reflection. However, this brief commentary may provide some insight into the intellectual underpinnings of my personality and behavior.)
• How much do I want togetherness?
This question is among the collection of queries defining the Wanted Inclusion dimension of the FIRO-B, on which I scored a zero. Musselwhite notes the obvious, that 0 and 1 are very low scores, meaning that the behavior described will rarely be displayed.
For me, this question is akin to asking, “How much do I want to be in a crowded elevator?” The answer is dependent upon how many floors must be traversed to reach my desired destination.
• How much do I want to be a team player?
This is another question that Musselwhite relates to Wanted Inclusion. As indicated, in my discussion of teamwork, above, for me, the answer is dependent upon the question “toward what end?” If the answer is fuzzy or unknown, that suggests to me that playing on the team may be a waste of my limited time here on earth.
• How much do I want to be part of a community or network of people?
This too Musselwhite relates to Wanted Inclusion, and my responses to the two questions immediately above are pertinent here as well. However, I would also note that we are born into a network of people – called family – and many of us are required every day of the work week to travel to be with yet another community of folks – fellow employees of the organization that signs our paychecks. Moreover, for those of us who are fortunate to be beneficiaries of the explicit knowledge embedded in the tools of the cyberage, the Internet is yet another network of people, at home as well as at work.
Thus, the pertinent question may not be so much the degree of desire we have to be part of a community as it is a question of: a) how much more “community” we can stand, given the amount of time we have; and b) what is the quality of the character of the networks and particularly the people involved in the networks to which we devote our precious time. A related question with respect to the network of networks that comprise the Internet is, “What is the quality of the information that we allow others to impose upon us?” (For further discussion of this topic, see my paper entitled “When Push Comes to Shove: The Potential to Protect Personal Privacy and Preferences Via P3P, Digital Personas, and X.500,” which is available at: http://users.erols.com/ambur/PushShove.html.)
• How much do I exercise power?
This is one of several questions related to the dimension of Expressed Control, on which I scored a 2. (Musselwhite lumps a score of 2 with scores of 3, calls them low and says they mean the behavior described “will not be noticeably characteristic.”) I will be discussing this topic in greater detail in my project paper, focusing on the seven types of social power identified by French and Raven (in Andrews and Baird, p. 371). So I will not address it here, except again to note the pertinence of the question of means versus ends. The exercise of power is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Moreover, in this context, implicit is the thought that power will be exerted over other people, an end that should not be sought on whim.
• How much do I want other people to tell me what to do?
This question, which Musselwhite poses as an indicator of the dimension of Wanted Control, sounds paradoxical. Why would anyone want anyone else to tell them what to do? For example, my score on this dimension, another 3, indicates that such behavior is not “noticeably characteristic” of me. However, even though it may not be noticeable to others, in fact I often do want others to tell me what to do – particularly my wife and particularly with respect to social activities.
To cite a very current example, it is now 7:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, June 24, 2000. My wife is in Olathe, Kansas, finishing out a week helping my sister Sonja with her new baby, our nephew, Holden Joseph Hartley (HoJo, for short). And here I am working on this reflection document. (When my wife is not around, I am more than happy to have a professor control my social calendar – but not for long. This is my last class for a masters degree, and it ends in less than a month.)
• How much do I initiate close personal relationships with others?
On the dimension of Expressed Affection, I scored another 3, and in terms of this specific question, I would not have been surprised to have scored even lower. To me, this question manifests a contradiction in terms: The more relationships anyone has, by definition, the more “distant” (i.e., less “personal”) each will be. While I value many business relationships (because there is a lot that I hope to accomplish), I do not need many close, personal relationships for the simple fact that those are contradictory terms.
• How much do I share about myself with others?
This is another of the questions Musselwhite associates with Expressed Affection and, again, I would ask the question “toward what end?” I would also note that one learns more by listening than by speaking, and that active listening is essential both for understanding as well as intimacy. On the other hand, judge for yourself: If there is reason to do so, I am more than willing... How am I doing?
• How much do I want close relationships with others?
Musselwhite relates this question to Wanted Affection, the dimension of the FIRO-B on which my relatively higher score of 5 comes as the biggest surprise to me. (Overall, I scored three 3's, one 2, and one 0.) Thus, I take this dimension as the greatest opportunity for learning presented in this exercise. However, it should be noted that a 5 is still not a high score on a scale of 0 to 9. Indeed, Musselwhite says 4 and 5 are borderline scores, merely indicating that a person “may display a tendency toward the behavior.”
So what am I to take from this opportunity for learning? That I value my relationships with those with whom I am close? If so, that hardly seems a revelation, yet it is something of which I am gladly reminded.
• How much closeness do I want from others?
This is a fuzzy question, the likes of which make for poor business transactions. However, contrary to the requisites of science and business, which demand rigor and degrees of confidence that can only be achieved by rendering relative values explicit, I have no desire to benchmark my personal relationships. Indeed, unlike business but akin to the scientific pursuit of knowledge, personal relationships are both means as well as ends unto themselves. Such relationships may require occasional adjustment, and participants may benefit from knowledge accumulated by others. However, calibration is inherently inconsistent with the condition of closeness.
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Installment 7
My Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument Scores
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument was listed in the syllabus among the materials to be acquired for the class. Supplementing the insights gained from my FIRO-B scores, here are the primary observations I have drawn from this instrument.
On three of the five measures – Collaborating, Compromising, and Accommodating – I scored within the middle 50 percent. However, each of those scores was below the 40th percentile and my score for collaboration fell below the 30th percentile. On the Competing measure, my score fell just below the 25th percentile but above the 20th percentile. Thus, my score on the measure called Avoiding is perhaps the most interesting – an 11 (out of a possible 12), which is closer to 100th than 90th percentile – meaning that my tendency to avoid conflict is fairly extreme.
The authors point out that extreme scores are not necessarily bad since circumstances may require high or low use of a particular conflict-handling mode. Indeed, they note, “All five modes are useful in some situations: Each represents a set of useful social skills.” They also note that the conflict behaviors result from their personal predispositions as well as the circumstances in which people find themselves. However, they suggest that an individual’s social skills may lead to over-reliance on a particular mode of conflict behavior.
Competing – With respect to appropriate uses, Thomas and Kilman aver that two circumstances in which competing behavior is necessary include: a) when quick, decisive action is vital (e.g., in emergencies) and b) when unpopular courses of action must be implemented on important issues. However, it seems a bit of a stretch to say the required behaviors in such circumstances are representative of “competition.” Moreover, the authors suggest that low scores on this dimension may indicate feelings of powerlessness and/or difficulty in taking a firm stand on issues one believes to be important – neither of which I believe to be characteristic of me, despite my fairly low score (20th - 25th percentile) on this measure.
For example, in high school I was a three-year letterman in both basketball and football, and I enjoyed the competition greatly. Moreover, for the first 14 years of my career, I worked for politician. Through five election cycles, winning was everything. With respect to taking a firm stand, I have no problem doing so when the cause is just and meaningful. Ironically, I recently authored an article in the E-Gov Journal entitled “Taking a FIRM Stand: E-Records and the President's E-Gov/E-Society Directives,” which is available on the Internet at http://www.e-gov.com/egovjournal/news/index.pl?article=35&dept=services_solutions.
An alternative explanation, which I believe to be true in my case, is that there are relatively few circumstances in modern life that require a high degree of competitive behavior. Also, as this dimension is explained by Thomas and Kilman, I believe that a more descriptive word might be “assertive” (rather than “competing”) and that one should choose with particular care those instances when it may be appropriate to attempt to assert one’s will over that of others. (Incidentally, my wife would be very surprised to know that I scored low on this measure. It is likely that she too would feel the need for an alternative explanation.)
Collaborating – On this measure, I also scored low but slightly higher (25th - 30th percentile). Appropriate uses of collaborative behavior include: a) when two or more sets of concerns are “too important to be compromised” and b) when it is important to gain commitment from others. Thomas and Kilman point out, “Collaboration takes time and energy – perhaps the scarcest organizational resources. Trivial problems don’t require optimal solutions, and not all personal differences need to be hashed out.” They note that low scores are indicative of difficulties in seeing differences as opportunities for joint gain, and perhaps even “indiscriminate pessimism.”
Notwithstanding the fact that my score on the Competing measure indicate that I should refrain from doing so, I strongly assert my exceedingly optimistic view that progress can be made on important issues with or without excessively time- and energy-consuming collaboration or consensus. All that is required is for each of us to do our best to do the right thing and do it abundantly within our own spheres of influence. In my view, it appears that Thomas and Kilman may be bound up in old-paradigm thinking. In the information age there is no reason that any of us should be expected to engage either in competition or collaboration against our will or the will of others. Doing so is simply no longer a necessity of life or even the pursuit of happiness.
Compromising – My score on Compromising was near the 35th percentile. Circumstances in which Thomas and Kilman suggest that compromise is appropriate include: a) when goals are moderately important but not worth the disruption of more assertive behavior, b) to arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure, and c) as a backup mode when collaboration or competition fails. High scores indicate possible loss of perspective, e.g., in placing practicalities and tactics above principles, values, long-term objectives, and community welfare. Conversely, low scores may denote difficulty in making graceful concessions and averting destructive arguments and power struggles.
As measured by this instrument, my strongest tendency is avoidance. Thus, power struggles or destructive arguments would generally not be characteristic of me. Nor am I willing to make sacrifices for short-term expediency when, for me, the only thing that may truly matter is the principle involved.
Accommodating – On this measure I scored closer to the 40th percentile than the 30th percentile. Thomas and Kilman suggest that accommodating behavior is appropriate when: a) you realize you are wrong, b) the issue is more important to the other person, or c) the opportunity presents itself to build up credits for later use on more important issues. However, the latter is a common cause for misunderstanding and disappointment, when the person who is “accommodated” does not perceive or accept the thought that credit is due and, thus, is unwilling to reciprocate later. High scores may indicate lax discipline, while low scores may reflect failure to recognize when it is time to give up.
In my view, the appropriate behavior depends upon the merits of the cause. Individuals should be highly principled, self-motivated, self-directed, and self-rewarded. Unimportant issues should be avoided; life is too short for trivia. Individuals should actively engage others in causes that are meaningful, while recognizing that relatively few issues are truly a matter of life or death.
Avoiding – With respect to avoidance behavior, I ranked closer to the 100th percentile than to the 90th percentile. Avoidance is appropriate when: a) issues are trivial or of lesser importance than others that are pressing, b) chances of satisfaction are slight, c) the potential for damaging conflict outweighs the benefits of resolution, d) when the issue seems tangential or symptomatic of a more basic concern, and e) gathering more information outweighs the advantages of an immediate decision. High scores like mine may result in decisions being made by default and/or lack of coordination due to the difficulties others have gaining the individual’s input.
As far as I am concerned, it is perfectly fine if decisions are made by others or by default on issues that are unimportant to me, which includes most issues. Indeed, I may decline to provide input on such issues. However, one thing that I definitely will not do is leave people hanging. Meeting deadlines is one of my obsessions. When asked, I often will give people far more input than they may have expected. However, when I do not believe an issue warrants my time, I can be fairly blunt in saying so – even at the risk of hurting someone else’s feelings, which paradoxically is characteristic of those who score low on this measure.
Reflection Journal, ADMN 625, Installment 8
Andrews & Baird, Chapter 11, Group Functions & Socio-Emotional Variables
The points highlighted in chapter 11 that resonate most strongly with me include the following:
• Communication facilitates interaction ... [based upon] some degree of shared interest. Often ... a goal upon which there is mutual agreement. (p. 356)
Some relationships (e.g., hereditary relationships) are preordained, but even within those relationships, adults have the power to determine their own interests, establish their own goals, and to seek to enter into interactions with others in pursuit mutual objectives. At least that is true with respect to social relationships. Unfortunately, it is not yet true of business and professional relationships, most of which are still far too encumbered with needlessly restrictive artifacts such as bureaucratic hierarchy, outmoded assumptions, and unproductive norms.
• Groups and organizations do not exist as isolated units. They are ... embedded within the larger organizational system... “an interlocking network of organizational roles”... each individual belongs to multiple groups and is often subjected to conflicting pressures... organizational groups operate within formal hierarchies and normally function with appointed leaders. (p. 356)
The general theory of the firm holds that organizations form when the cost of transactions becomes too great without them. However, the cost of transactions is being dramatically reduced through the application of information technology. Many organizational constructs that were required to transact business in inefficient, paper-based value chains are being disintermediated. On the other hand, countervailing against the general trend toward increased efficiency are the powers of entrenched bureaucracy, monopoly, and winner-take-all markets.
• Project teams [represent] an array of specialties ... they coordinate ... a particular project, product, or service. (p. 357)
As a step away from self-serving bureaucracy, project teams are at least more task oriented and, hopefully, more customer-focused and results-driven. However, to the degree teamwork is based upon assumptions that have not been critically evaluated within the relevant context, teams are merely the neo-bureaucracies.
• ... the work team [is] an intact group of employees who are responsible for a ‘whole’ work process of segment that delivers a product or service to an internal or external customer. (p. 357)
Theorists speculate that the future of organizations will depend upon generic core competencies for managing processes rather than more specialized skills related to particular products or services. Those theorists also argue that, instead of possessing a highly specialized skill sets, employees ought to have a more generalized capabilities suited to dealing with a broad range of activities in dynamic, rapidly changing markets. No doubt, process excellence will mark the success of any organization in the highly competitive markets of the future.
However, as generalized process excellence becomes a commodity in the marketplace, the role of organizations themselves will change. No longer will it be the role of organizations to acquire employees and customers. Instead, individuals will routinely and dynamically acquire organizational relationships not only to obtain the products and services they desire, but also to employ and capitalize upon the specialized skills they possess as individuals. (This topic is discussed in further detail in my paper entitled “6th Generation Knowledge Management: Realizing the Vision in Working Knowledge,” at http://users.erols.com/ambur/6thGenKM.htm.)
• ... the critical factor in ... successful teams is ... a small number of people with complementary skills who share a commitment to a common purpose and who adopt a set of performance goals for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. (p. 358)
In other words, success is measured by results. Results are determined by the mix of capabilities that are applied to the task, as well as the strength of commitment by which they are applied. Mutual self-accountability increases strength of commitment. However, the bottom line is that th results will speak for themselves, regardless of whether or not the organization recognizes them through the application of appropriate metrics.
• There is an important distinction between being held accountable by one’s boss and being accountable to oneself and one’s team. (p. 359)
Character has been defined as “what you do when no one is looking” and a rule of thumb for ethics in the Federal bureaucracy is: “If you wouldn’t want to read about it tomorrow on the front page of The Washington Post, don’t do it.” However, a critical issue is whether our culture, much less our organizations and the people within them truly desire accountability. That topic is explored in my presentation to the Northern Virginia chapter of the American Records Managers Association, entitled “Et Tu, Uncle Sammie? The Challenge of Records Management in the Lewinsky Age,” which is available at http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/index.html.
It is also the subject of my short paper entitled “For the Record, Metrics Matter ... But DoesUncle Sam Care About Quality Management?” at http://users.erols.com/ambur/RMmetrics.htm.
In his book entitled “The End of Marketing as We Know It,” Segio Zyman argues that the future of organizations will be about “precise communication.” (http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/sld010.html). He also notes that with computers it is easy to keep track of costs and results. (http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/sld011.html) Thus, the real issue is whether organizations, groups, and individuals really want to know the truth, or whether they prefer to be comforted by their preconceived notions of reality.
• ... social scientists have identified small groups as one of the major contexts in which social influence or pressure for uniformity may be most potent. (p. 362)
Of course, uniformity is not only desirable but essential for many purposes. However, the need should be made explicit and the means of achieving it should be critically evaluated within the context of each instance.
• Norms may be either implicit ... or explicit ... (p. 363)
Some of the negative results of the adoption of norms by default are highlighted in slide 13 of my Et Tu Uncle Sammy presentation at http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/sld013.html and http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/sld014.html
As suggested by Charles Savage (5th Generation Management), individuals have a moral obligation to push-back against the assertions of others, including norms that may be implicit in any group, until the truth is known, including the relative merits of any particular norm.
• Whether or not we adhere to the norms of our group or organization depends upon a variety of factors. Chief among them is the degree to which we value our membership and identify strongly with the group or organization. (p. 363
Market-driven changes are altering the loyalties employees as well as customers. Loyalists for the old-line bureaucracies decry many of these changes. Change can be threatening and, indeed, it may impose costs and benefits upon individuals and organizations that may be far out of line with previously accepted norms. However, organizations and the norms that support them are means rather than ends unto themselves. Moreover, in competitive markets organizations are powerless to resist changes that confer upon customers the perception of increased benefits. Thus, it is incumbent upon each of us to critically weigh both our group memberships as well as the norms of those groups within the light of their productivity in terms of outputs and benefits to their stakeholders.
• In some instances [people] may listen to other group members’ arguments and actually become convinced the group is right. By contrast, others may simply find it easier, less stressful, or more politically astute to mouth their agreement, even though they privately disagree. (p. 363)
In my experience, the latter is equally or perhaps even more likely to occur in bureaucratic organizations.
• In actual organizational settings, compliance may be ingratiating, strategically aimed at increasing the worker’s attractiveness in the eyes of his or her boss, or it may reveal the subordinate’s fear of open discussion. (p. 363)
Both of these factors are also pervasive in bureaucracies.
• Failure to conform to the group can be psychologically uncomfortable. (p. 363)
This dynamic is an example of Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance, which is the topic of slide 16 of my ARMA presentation, at http://users.erols.com/ambur/ARMA/sld016.html
• ... pervasive conformity is detrimental to good decision making. (p. 365)
• In a healthier organizational climate, expressions of disagreement or dissent may be more positively received. (p. 366)
• Groups must examine their norms with vigilance. (p. 366)
• ... roles are behaviors that perform some function in a specific group context. (p. 367)
Organizations are lagging in recognizing their evolving roles in light of rapidly evolving information technologies. Moreover, it is detrimental to the personal interests of many organizational leaders to do so. In competitive markets, the choice is to change or perish. However, many bureaucracies are effectively insulated from competition, meaning that those who occupy positions of power within them are likely to block change unless it is imposed by external forces, e.g., politics, Congress, etc.
• So long as the concept of hierarchy prevails in organizations, issues of status and power will remain potent variables affecting small group and organizational behavior. (p. 370)
Various business theorists have predicted the demise of steep hierarchies, but the gap between theory and practice can loom large when human culture is involved.
• ... status is the value, importance, or prestige associated with a given role or position. Power ... focuses on the opportunity to influence or control others. (p. 370)
French and Raven’s seven types of social power are the subject of my project paper.
• ... research has demonstrated that cohesiveness neither increases nor decreases group productivity. Instead, it serves to heighten the susceptibility of group members to mutual influence. Thus, if a highly cohesive group establishes a standard of low productivity, group members are likely to conform to the norm and produce little. (p. 374)
A culture of low productivity is not an unlikely occurrence in bureaucratic organizations that are effectively insulated from the impact of any results (or lack thereof) they produce. Congress has attempted to alter this dynamic in Federal agencies through enactment of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). However, the linkages have yet to be effectively drawn between the actions of agency decision-makers, much less the average employee, and the results that they personally realize. Indeed, relatively few would even accept the thought that individual rewards should be based upon individual actions. Moreover, Congress itself routinely thwarts the purpose by appropriating funds based upon political factors as opposed to performance-based measures.
• Groups and organizations often make poor decisions – in part because their cohesiveness contributes to a mindset that discourages dissent and the rational examination of alternative courses of action. (p. 374)
I personally recently heard one of my managers voice the previously oft-heard bureaucratic admonition: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Notwithstanding the teachings of TQM to pursue continuous improvement, old-style groupthink is alive and well in the Federal bureaucracy.
• ... pressure for uniformity ... serves to reduce the range and quality of information and opinions presented and diminishes the advantages of having groups rather than individuals make decisions. (p. 375)
• ... groupthink [has been] defined as “a model of thinking that people engage in when they are involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action” ... “premature concurrence seeking” [occurs when groups] seek consensus so swiftly and relentlessly that full and free discussion of alternative courses of action simply never occurs. (p. 375)
• ... negative qualities that commonly lead to groupthink [include] ... Self-censorship by group members, attempting to minimize the importance of any doubts they may have [and] The emergence of self-appointed “mindguards” ... who protect the group from conflicting information that might shatter their shared complacency. (p. 375)
In many respects change is occurring at blinding speed (i.e., “Internet speed”). Yet the challenge to reform (reinvent) our organizations and the cultures that support them remains great. Few of the principles reviewed in this course are new to me. Over the course of my 27-year career I have heard most of them before, and with increasing frequency in recent years. However, this course has reinforced my commitment to many of those principles and provides a fitting capstone to my masters program at UMUC.