Spirited Debate on LO LO6658

Rachel Silber (rachel@ontos.com)
Sat, 13 Apr 1996 17:00:17 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO6643 --

"Ray_Usell/HNS.HNSW@sdnotesgw.hns.com said: "
> I think of that period of my life as the "say unto others as you would
> have them say unto you" period. It took a long time to realize that only
> a small fraction of people are compatible with what can be called a direct
> objective style. That style produces emotional responses in a very large
> percentage of the population. I started really catching on after making a
> presentation to a division VP and his staff. This VP was famous for
> maintaining a crisp, vigorous, no-nonsense meeting environment and dialog
> with everyone. So I prepared a crisp, direct, presentation that said all
> of us managers in the division contributed to a certain problem by being
> "bureaucrats". I was very surprised at the emotional responses the term
> generated. And no action was taken on the problem until consultants were
> called in a couple years later. A few years later when the VP was leaving
> the company for a better opportunity he said, "Well Ray, here's one less
> bureaucrat to slow things down." A member of his staff referred to the
> incident 5 years later! I had no idea their feelings could be hurt in any
> businesslike setting during an objective discussion. It appears the term
> attacked their self image as hard driving dynamic efficient doers (which
> they all are).
> The point is that emotions severely interfere with effective dialog and
> should be avoided most of the time.

What I read into your anecdote was quite a different point:

Whatever our attempts are to communicate in a direct, objective style,
we cannot avoid evoking an emotional response in other people we
communicate with. Understanding and coming to terms with the emotional
response that's generated is part of the job of communicating

It seems to me that in the case of your anecdote, the emotional
response was never "processed" and therefore it impeded learning.

To bring this message around to the subject of the thread, discussion
on this list, if we are saying things to each other that are really
non-trivial, really not just a bunch of likeminded people getting
together and preaching to the choir, each of us readers will
react emotionally, at least in part. But we have choices in how we
express that emotional reaction, and the way we handle the choice will
make a marked difference in the tone of the list.

One choice might be to respond heatedly and spiritedly to the
subject under discussion. There's nothing wrong with passion!

Another choice might be to observe ones own emotional reaction,
learn from that, and then report that learning to the list. Many
postings on LO have done that, and I find it valuable when people
are able to be that open. It isn't easy! It can make people feel
vulnerable. At such vulnerable moments, responding to their posts
as THOUGH what was going on followed the conventions of spirited
debate can be destructive.

Making both kinds of discussion coexist on the same list requires
a good deal of sensitivity from all of us and perhaps a firm
hand from Our Moderator.

> Communications are difficult enough
> without the added impediment of emotional responses. And one cannot
> estimate the response of others based on what their own response might be
> to words, phrases, etcetera.

We each have to take primary responsibility for our
emotional responses to others' communications. We can't avoid the
emotional responses, but we have to evaluate them as part of the
situation, and be prepared to do the difficult work of using those
responses appropriately.

> I now think in terms of "say unto others as
> They would have me say unto Them". The tough part is figuring out what
> that is, but in general, soft works better than hard.

I don't think that it is always possible to tailor ones expression
around another person's emotional reactions -- assuming good will on your
part, it's the ones you don't expect and can't anticipate that are the
biggest problem. Also there can be a distortion in meaning that occurs
when you modify your communication style. It's important to make sure
that "say unto others as they would have me say unto them" doesn't
become "tell them what they want/expect to hear".

For me, a useful guide along these lines has been Gerald Weinberg.
In particular, Becoming a Technical Leader by this author (available
from Dorset House Publishing) goes into the emotional models underlying
conversation at some depth.


Rachel Silber rachel@ontos.com

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>