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Senior Correspondent

True or False?

True or False?


"It ain't what you know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." — Mark Twain

Remember the True/False quizzes? They were usually timed, so you had to think fast. And you either got it right or you got it wrong. There was no time for indecision … Let's check the data … Or it depends. No room for situational analysis, or any analysis for that matter.

The all or nothing True/False scoring system, taught us more than we may realize. It taught many of us to make snap judgments, to be obsessed with knowing "the answers" rather than asking better questions. And, we took those practices right into the workplace, and perfected them. We have become the Answer-Man. We need to be right. We need to be quick; no time for facts or discovery. We need for others to know that we know. And, so on and so forth.

We may listen, not to fully understand, but to agree or disagree. Once we make up our mind, true or false: We may direct our attention elsewhere. We may interrupt to press our argument, hijacking the airwaves and shutting the other person down. It's all in a day’s work. Whether this describes you or someone you work with, you get the drift.

We recently accepted the challenge of facilitating a consensus building meeting around governance changes involving approximately 40 chapter trustees of a national organization. Representing their respective chapter at the national level, these individuals are also business owners and managers. They are very dedicated to their trade, and volunteer their time, talents and treasure to strengthen their industry and create many well-paying U.S. jobs.

The recommended changes were rolled out for consideration and comment over a period of months, and the situation had become quite contentious. Disagreement filled the airwaves paving the way for some pretty low expectations for the meeting we were to facilitate. Concerned that those low expectations could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, we were well prepared.

As we moved the group through the process, individuals were encouraged to express their position relative to the changes and share their supporting logic. It inevitably became clear that most, if not all, individuals were in agreement in principle, or concept.

What we ultimately discovered was classic. What appeared to be large scale disagreement turned out to be large scale agreement with a few manageable disagreements about the details. As they say: the devil's in the details. The group was actually having a challenge "managing agreement." Once we helped them realize that, the course of action became very clear.

How often does this happen in your workplace? Your home? Your church? Your volunteer group? It's much easier to fixate on what we seem to disagree about, rather than to dig a little deeper to find a place where we may just share a piece of common ground.

Sadly, we get busy making ourselves right, which in turn makes others wrong, which then creates a defensive environment, which quickly deteriorates into a whodunnit or The Blame Game. And then good and talented people feel the need to spend time, energy and creativity protecting themselves or their department from perceived attack, rather than analyzing causes of problems and creating solutions.

It's all very sad. It's all very costly. The costs are most likely not tracked for this kind of circumstance, but the money pours right out of the organization, along with the commitment of those involved.

"You're either part of the solution, or part of the problem." — Eldridge Cleaver

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