Spirited Debate on LO LO6660

Richard Karash (rkarash@karash.com)
Sat, 13 Apr 1996 22:30:23 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO6653 --

Replying to Hal's LO6653 --

Margaret said:

> >It is incorrect, IMHO, to tell them they are arrogant as if it is the
> >TRUTH! Hal mistakes his ASSESSMENT of arrogance as a fact. It is only
> >his interpretation.

And Hal replied
> I am
> asking that if a statement IS (factually) arrogant (not by some opinion or
> assessment but IS arrogant) what are the problems with pointing this FACT
> out and what are the balancing problems of NOT pointing it out?

Hal, I believe you are missing Margaret's point and I'm wondering why. I
notice that you came back strongly with the same theme as in your previous
post and did not attempt to followup or inquire into Margaret's points
(most of which I didn't quote).

I believe she's saying that you can't tell arrogance (or anything else)
*for sure*; that when you see it, even when it's *obvious*, it's actually
your opinion.

(Re-reading Margaret's, I think she's said this quite clearly.)

Many of us feel that stating supposed facts *as facts* cuts off further
conversation (e.g., when someone, particularly someone in authority, says
"that's arrogant!" or "that's pretty dumb" or "that's just plain wrong"),
that this has an immediate chilling effect on discourse.

Hal, I know you've seen this in your organizations. We all have. Someone
proposes something that seems a little "off". They get put down. They back
off, and the opportunity is lost to discover what they were thinking.
Maybe there's a gem there that didn't come out right the first time. It
is well shown in research that these incidents rob organizations of
potentially good thinking. (my refs here are De Bono, Synectics, George
Prince, WJJ Gordon, and others. Walter Derzko can probably add more on

Now, many people can learn to hang in there, to fight back. Maybe this is
a trainable skill for some.

I believe this can be done to excess -- when we rise to the occasion and
hang in there to "win" the point, even when we know in our hearts that the
point doesn't have merit. OK, so we stand our ground, and probably score
points, but everyone participating in the game has given up a piece of
their integrity. (I've done this and won, scored real points in the
exchange, and known that the real truth didn't come out. It's a great
pleasure for me that in my LO work I don't have to do this.)

So what's the alternative approach? Surely, we don't want to "smooth over"
the differences. Don't want to discreetly cover over with indirectness
(e.g. as in the E. Wharton novel "Age of Innocence" and the wonderful
movie with Winona Ryder) because this creates *severe* dangers of missing
or confusing the point. Argyris has written effectively about this, and
this material is embraced by Senge in his learning disciplines.

The answer, I suggest is an old one: honesty and respect. Most everyone
appreciates being spoken to with honeyst, even on the toughest issues.
This I do sincerely appreciate in your post, Hal; I sometimes return msgs
to authors when I feel they have an opinion which isn't showing.

So, instead of "that's pretty arrogant," or "...dumb" or "that's wrong," I
suggest we might say:

- "You seem pretty sure... What makes you feel so strongly? I don't see
it the same way."
- "Well, tell me more... Why do you think that?"
- (Or, the universal non-directive probe in English) "Oh?"

Some research shows much (most?) communication occurs through tone,
inflection, body language, etc. This certainly makes a difference. If you
have just rolled your eyes in disgust, it won't matter what words you use.
But, if your non-verbals communicate respect and recognition (firm
handshake, eye contact, etc.), your words can be *very* challenging and
still advance the debate, not cut it off.

Here in e-mail we don't have the non-verbal cues, we're missing a flow of
information that's usually part of the exchange. From reading Sproul and
Kiesler (_Connections_, MIT Press 1991) and others, I believe that because
the non-verbals are missing, we have to go *further* out of our way to
communicate the respect and recognition that would be present in a face to
face meeting.

How do we show espect in e-mail? Real respect, that lands right for the
opposite party and is clear to all the readers? This is harder... For
example, I feel inadequate in doing so right here in this msg, in showing
my respect for Hal and Margaret. I had a paragraph "Thanks Hal and
Margarent for you nice msgs..." but it didn't sound right. I think this is
something we have to learn.

Senge says, "I've been working for several years to get better at saying
to another person, 'I would like to know why you think that.'"

Pardon me for giving the course 1.01 lecture... I'll get down off the
podium now.

Hal, why did you pick arrogance for your illustration? If I thought
someone was being arrogant, I might or might not say so. This seems low
importance to me and I feel we might waste energy debating it here.

But, suppose it were clear to us that another party had screwed up, done a
bad job on a very recent item. Would we say so, to the person? If so,
how? That's harder stuff to raise and, I think, more impactful.

I'm thinking of my father-in-law, born on a farm in Kentucky, now an
engineer at NASA. The minister and several others were over for a nice
polite Sunday dinner. Afterwards, while everyone was putting on their
coats, ready to go, one guest said, "Reverand, that was a nice sermon
today." My father-in-law, always scrupulously honest said, "Well, I
didn't think so!", everyone took off their coats, and they had an
important discussion that lasted several hours.

If I understand you Hal, I think we both applaud my father-in-law's
content, and even his approach. For him, to do less, to leave a "lie" on
the table, would be dishonest and be dis-respecting. That is, I think we
agree that we should state our views, pretty forcefully. We might disagree
about what to do when our thinking includes judgements about the other
person or their works.

Someone said, insightfully I think, that here on a large email list we'll
tend to just ignore things we don't agree with. I hope that on the LO
list, we can be fully honest and respectful. I think these are essential
ingredients for effectiveness in our conversation.

This implication of this line of thinking for me as LO host is to send
back to their authors any msgs that I feel show disrespect for another
person (or are confusing enough to be read that way). I have no bias
against anyone stating their opinions however spirited and forcefully.

I welcome continued exchange about the most effective way to conduct
large group dialogue.

-- Rick Karash, host for learning-org


Richard Karash ("Rick") | <http://world.std.com/~rkarash> Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer | email: rkarash@karash.com "Towards learning organizations" | Host for Learning-Org Mailing List (617)227-0106, fax (617)523-3839 | <http://world.std.com/~lo>

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