I recently heard something that stuck with me as a good little adage to remember about judging others: “Logic doesn’t equal fact”.
I think this is an important thing to remember in every aspect of our lives; but particularly in regard to how we might unwittingly treat other people because of the assumptions we make about their intentions and abilities:
When we to try understand someone’s behaviors, we tend to base our explanations on what we think we see. We make a quick assumption given the limited data we have, and if the assumption seems logical we accept it as fact.
In one of my old social psychology textbooks, the authors (Brehm, Kassin, and Fein) explain that when judging another’s behaviors, our explanations come in the form of us making either personal or situational attributions. In other words, we make assumptions about whether the success or failure of another’s actions were do to his own skill and ability, or whether he lucked out or got burned because the environment had set him up for automatic success or failure.
The authors note that where we typically err in our attributions is through the use of cognitive heuristics (rules of thumb that allow us to make quick, but often erroneous assumptions) and the fundamental attribution error, in which we overestimate the role of personal factors on the impact of a situation.
In other words, the assumptions we make based on our own logic is often wrong. So the next time you’re in the position to praise, acknowledge, condemn, or dismiss the results someone’s actions, ask yourself whether you might be making an inaccurate assumption, and why. If things went well did you overestimate his contribution because you like him? If they didn’t go so well did you so for unfair reasons?
Communication in the workplace has to do with how we interact with our colleagues on many different levels simultaneously. It has to do with how we plan and convey the messages we want to give, both verbally and nonverbally; and with how we listen to, interpret, and respond to others’ messages.
And one way to characterize the successful execution of this is to say that we’ve engaged in effective dialogue.
We can call these interactions many things, of course: discussions, conversations, arguments, etc. – but I quite like the term ‘dialogue’ as it’s defined in Clutterbuck’s (2007) book, Coaching the Team at Work. Here he defines it as “approaching an issue with as open a mind as possible, with a view to understanding other people’s perspectives and perhaps creating a new perspective”.
This is a pretty powerful definition, I think. It highlights the fact that we all have our different viewpoints, values, and beliefs that have been shaped by everything we’ve ever experienced – and that we carry these with us everywhere we go, into every interaction we have.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can be a dangerous thing if we don’t recognize it and deal with it appropriately. It’s important to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the fact that we are coming from a very different place in many ways from the person sitting across the table from us – and vica-versa. With an open mind we can embrace our differences as well as our similarities; and we can identify and capitalize on the unique experiences that everybody brings to the table.
And, as Clutterbuck points out, we have the opportunity to shape these diverse perspectives into a new perspective.
I believe that these “new perspectives” should be the primary goal of dialogue. They can serve as the underlying philosophy that creates and guides a more effective culture for the partnership or team. (Because culture happens everywhere, all the time; with or without our conscious input. So we really should be proactive about it.)
Culture is a word we use to explain how we see and do things together. It speaks to our collective understandings about the explicit and implicit rules, roles, expectations, and protocols that govern how we approach problems together and how we interact with one another. If not handled actively, honestly, and purposefully, we leave the culture that develops to chance. And as we all know, that can be an ugly thing.
So the bottom line is that we can, and should, take charge of shaping our culture – and that we can do so by learning to engage in effective dialogue. It starts with cultivating our own sense of self-awareness; and it continues by keeping an open mind in trying to understand and integrate the healthiest and most helpful viewpoints, values, and beliefs of all involved.
I recently presented a workshop on intergenerational communication in the workplace; where I talked about various communication styles and how the generations could work better together by understanding their similarities and differences.
In retrospect, one thing I could have included was a discussion of the role of crystallized versus fluid intelligence (as originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell). I didn’t, however, and so here’s as good a place as any to mention it…
If the terms crystallized and fluid intelligence aren’t familiar to you, here’s the idea: the former refers to accumulated knowledge gained from previous learning and experiences. The latter involves abstract reasoning and the ability to problem-solve novel situations. As we age, our crystallized intelligence increases as we experience and learn more things; but our fluid intelligence decreases.
In an environment where different generations are working together we can use this knowledge to our advantage. For example, the older members of the team could provide information about the historical context of a problem (i.e., how it came to be; what has and hasn’t worked in the past) etc.; while the younger members could use this knowledge to brainstorm new and creative solutions (while not having to reinvent the wheel.) In other words, both groups can bring the best of their brain-power to the table; working together to develop creative and progressive solutions based on sound principles and time-honored wisdom.
There is lots of information to be found about generational differences; but not as much about how these differences can be acknowledged, celebrated, and used in a productive way. It’s definitely an area worth paying attention to as people continue to work longer while the younger generations are entering the workforce.