Overcoming the Limiting Power of Assumption
Posted by Claude on Monday 27th July 2009 at 16:33:48
We all have assumptions that underly our thinking and which shape our actions. Our assumptions, images of the way the world works, and our stories, form our “mental models” which determine the way we see the world, and the way we take action.
By not making our assumptions known, our communication ability is severely limited and this can adversely affect decision making and corporate effectiveness. Decisions made as a result of incomplete (based on what I say not what I think) information or incorrect (based on saying what you want to hear) information can lead to poor results or even, over the longer term, disastrous results.
Picture every person in your team, operating from their defense routines. Yes, decisions do get made and implemented, conflict is quickly subdued, and on the surface everything looks under control, but is it really?
So, how do you remove the potentially huge limitation of defensive routines from the making of quality decisions?
There is a process that can help people clarify their assumptions, see the contradictions in their assumptions and the incompleteness of their mental models, and which can lead to new insight and learning.
The key elements of this process are a willingness to seek the truth in a given situation, and permission for you to question my thinking and my assumptions and in turn, for me to be able to question yours. By sharing our mental models we can develop our shared or collective vision, as well as enhance our learning as a team.
This does require trust, but with the willingness and permission mentioned above, applied at all levels within the given context, this is very possible. Developing Emotional Intelligence, specifically the competency of interpersonal skills, can help to create the confidence from which one is more readily able to establish a trust environment.
The key skills in this process are advocacy and enquiry, and applying them in a balanced way leads to optimal collaborative learning. When presenting your viewpoint (advocacy) is balanced with questions about your viewpoint (enquiry), whilst at the same time making my thinking explicit (advocacy) and allowing you to ask questions about my viewpoint (enquiry), we can find the best argument or even develop a whole new viewpoint or mental model.
By being willing to expose the limitations in my own thinking i.e. by being willing to be wrong, which is achieved through asking questions (enquiry), instead of purely arguing my own view more loudly (advocacy), I make it safe for others to do likewise.
Some quick guidelines:
When advocating your point of view-
· Make your own reasoning explicit i.e. how you arrived at your view and the “data” upon which is based.
· Encourage others to explore your view e.g. Do you see gaps in my reasoning?
· Actively enquire into others’ views that differ from your own i.e. What are your views? How is your data different to mine?
When enquiring into others’ views
· If making an assumption on another’s view, state your assumptions and acknowledge that they are assumptions.
· State the data on which your assumptions are based.
· Don’t ask questions (enquiry) just to make you look good or show them up. Only ask questions if you are genuinely seeking their response.
If you reach an impasse (where others’ are no longer open to enquiry into their own views)
· Ask what data or logic might change their view.
· Ask if there is a way that together you can design a process that might provide new information.
If you are hesitant to express your views or to experiment with new ideas
· Try and think out loud what might be making it difficult to have an open exchange.
· Try and design ways to overcome these barriers.
Normally advocacy and enquiry is done within a group setting, but there are times where through personal reflection you may want to challenge your own ideas or mental models.
In either case you may need a “ruthlessly compassionate” partner or coach to either help facilitate dialogue within the group, or help you see your own “blind spots” as an individual.
This article draws on input and thinking from the contents of “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge.
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