Wisdom LO1042

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (BIRRED@dnr.state.wi.us)
Wed, 3 May 1995 09:27 CST

Replying to C. B. Willis' response to Doug Seeley's concern about making
distinctions and coming across as an "intellectual bully"--

The suggestions Willis (sorry, don't know either first name or gender)
makes smack of the very thing Doug Seeley is trying to avoid. My further
comments here are not intended ad hominem, so I hope no offense is taken.

>1) State the problem they're trying to solve, have them say what they've
>tried and how did it work ... invite them to notice the difference between X
>and Y, and lead them to say how embracing X leads down one path and
>produces one results (what is that), and how Y leads down another path and
>produces another result (what is that).... One or two demos like this will
>sell any rational person on
>the practical power of making distinctions that make a difference.

I don't know about this. It must take great skill to do this in everyday
life and work. The comment about "any rational person" implies a sense of
superiority that bothers me. If I don't get it, am I irrational, and
therefore a bad boy?

>2) Expect that you're up against irrational conditioning and ideas they
>hold about thinking, thinkers, problem solving, educated people, etc.
>Someone coming from an irrational place refuses to differentiate, but
>misidentifies or confuses many things, and accuses YOU of "nitpicking"

This is extremely condescending. It ignores the fact that most people (my
opinion, here, but I do think it's true) are a mix of rationality and
irrationality. People don't *refuse* to differentiate; they bring their
experiences and feelings and biases and problems and successes and
failures with them wherever they go - and we expect them to
instantaneously wrap their minds unfettered around our ideas? The
condescension here has to do with failing to respect others in the
fullness of their lives. Accusations of nitpicking are probably
well-placed, since the nitpicker is looking at hairs and not the whole
head. (I like to think I know what I'm talking about - I was on the
receiving end of this sort of criticism for many years).

>... Exercises that indirectly show all involved
>that they have limited ideas about themselves and their abilities, and
>then inviting them to look at how they may have acquired those ideas by
>imitating others (who?), or from drawing conclusions based on painful
>experiences in the past (what?).

This is a great way to make people feel inferior. It might work in a
clinical or academic setting, but when you're dealing with people "in the
whole" it will generally raise their hackles. Who likes to be one-upped,
after all?

>3) Use the positive suggestion about how smart this group is,
>validating them sincerely where possible early on, sets them up to further
>meet that expectation and be open to entertaining distinctions. It builds
>an intellectual rapport with them.

How do I know they are so smart, unless I'm smarter still? (This comment
is drawn from life - I've tried to do this and it's usually backfired,
sometimes with sound and fury. I'm finding that people like being
complimented on having achieved their goal, such as gotten through a
meeting productively, or done a good job in some other way.) I realize I'm
zeroing in on this perhaps unfairly, because there is indeed a kernel of
truth under the surface. But it's very important to be sensitive to egos.

>4) Build on "noticing". Ask them, "have you ever noticed that ...?"
>This gets them to check their experience and find the times when they did
>indeed notice whatever. When you are building toward making a distinction,
>draw on their noticing again. This way they can own the distinction because
>they can relate to it experientially, it's fun, and it builds a shared

This is a good technique for turning a discussion in the direction you
want it to go - it acknowledges others' experience and is very respectful.

Well, so much for that. I hope this is helpful. If not, type "del" and
press [Enter].


David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget Internet: birred@dnr.state.wi.us
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"To know, and not to act, is to not know."
--Wang Yang Ming, 9th-century Chinese general