Book Review-Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health

It’s an odd title for a book. Why would a psychologist title a book Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health? The answer lies in the belief that drugs are not the answer to all of the mental health problems of the day, and that in truth many – if not all – of the mental health problems that we have today can be traced back to a single source: unhappiness. While happiness itself is hard to define and even harder to find, the lack of happiness seems to manifest problems in our mental states as well as our physical bodies.

Dr. Glaser has written several books including two books that I’ve previously reviewed: Schools Without Failure and Choice Theory. Fundamentally, Dr. Glaser believes that we all have choices to make, and it’s understanding those choices that frees us from the bonds of unhappiness. Here, he extends his views into the ills of psychiatric drugs.

Placebo

I’ve addressed before the powerful effects of placebos and my belief that they’re driven by hope. (See The Heart and Soul of Change.) Dr. Glaser shares that, in some studies, patients who were getting better immediately relapse when they’re given the news that they’ve been receiving a placebo. It’s too difficult for them to accept that they were getting better based on their beliefs not on an external drug. Placebos work because we believe that what is being done has the capacity to heal us, to make us better, and to make it alright. If we just take the blue pill, we’ll find that we’re alright soon enough.

While ethicists that I know don’t believe that we should always give patients a placebo and tell them it’s an experimental new therapy that might work in their case, I’m not so sure. Perhaps my ethical boundaries get a bit blurry when we’re talking about eliminating human suffering. Perhaps I’m underestimating the damage to trust that it would do to tell someone they’re in an experimental program. However, I’ve got a strong desire to experiment with how effective I could get placebos to be by infusing patients with hope.

Efficacy

Efficacy is interesting in clinical studies. In order to be significant, there needs to be a sufficient difference between the control group receiving the placebo and the study group that’s receiving treatment. Unfortunately for psychiatric drug manufacturers the placebo effect is quite large. This means that drugs have to show a very high degree of efficacy in order to have a significant effect.

Some studies for some drugs have shown these larger effects, but the effects aren’t nearly as large as people would like you to believe. While drug companies can claim that 50-60% of people taking their wonder drug got better, they neglect to mention that 47-50% of people got better on placebo. Basically, there’s a maximum of a 13% difference – and a mean of 6.5%. A lot of money is being spent on small chances at making things better.

Long Term Effects

What is worse is that the long-term effects of these drugs are known to be potentially very bad. For instance, 25% of people treated for five years with schizophrenia medications will develop tardive dyskinesia, which is characterized by repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements. Stopping medications won’t stop tardive dyskinesia. Once the damage has been done, it can’t be reversed.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are another class of drugs that, while widely-used, have questionable long-term impact and incredibly short (6 weeks!) studies of their efficacy. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more about SSRIs.) Some animal studies have shown the prolonged exposure to SSRIs causes the brain to down-regulate the number of serotonin receptors that the brain has.

Study Sources

It gets worse. The studies that we do have to prove marginal effectiveness of these drugs are sponsored in most cases by the very pharmaceutical companies that want to sell the drugs to the market. While this is in some ways to be expected, because they have the financial advantage if it sells well, it also raises the very real concern about undue influence in the study results.

If you don’t believe it can happen, consider the incorrect link assigned between vaccinations and autism. It was an article in The Lancet has since been retracted: the collaborators on the article indicated that they weren’t aware of the lead author’s ties to a group trying to prove that vaccines were harmful. The lead author, Andrew Wakefield, has lost his license to practice medicine and in professional circles has been thoroughly discredited. However, the myth of the correlation between vaccinations and autism persists. Millions of children each year aren’t vaccinated due to one bad author and the one bad study.

Study Issues

Even if you accept honorable intentions, it’s estimated that 40% of peer-reviewed published research articles contain statistical errors. That’s just statistical errors. That doesn’t account for any leakage of information, accidental bias, or other introductions into the study which unduly influenced the results. If you run enough studies over a long enough period of time, you’ll eventually find a way to prove what you want to prove. Some hidden variable will appear in the data and you won’t be able to factor it out. (See The Black Swan for more on unexpected events.)

Having been in and around the publication of a few studies myself, I can say that all too often what is in the study design and what makes it into the paper is a small fraction of the important factors that led to the results. The reason that folks want multiple studies confirming the same thing is that too often studies are proven to be false or insufficient to demonstrate the effect that was expected.

A Better Alternative

So while insurance companies pay for the prescriptions to these psychological drugs for years and years, rarely do they pay for more than a few therapy sessions. While there is support for a limit to the number of sessions for effectiveness, the insurance minimums are often too short to provide any real impact. Instead the insurance company will pay for drugs for years and years.

Again, my proximity has led me to the awareness that insurance companies don’t expect members to be in the plan long enough to take on substantial upfront costs – like counseling – when low-level, long-term costs are sufficient. In short, they’re willing to keep people on drugs that mask the symptoms rather than solve the root cause, because their cost over the time they expect to retain the member is lower. (Talk about disincentives.)

If people could resolve their unhappiness, they wouldn’t need continuous drugs. In fact, George Brooks found that medication wasn’t enough to allow schizophrenic patients to leave the hospital. They needed psychosocial rehabilitation – at the end of which the drugs were no longer needed.

Let’s Get Together, Yea, Yea, Yea

The theme song for The Parent Trap says, “Let’s get together, yea, yea, yea” and it hides a certain truth: that we are social creatures, and that much of our happiness is gained in our relationships with other people, whether it’s understanding the different levels at which people relate as I discussed in High Orbit – Respecting Grieving or The Gifts of Imperfection.

A Science magazine article indicates that isolation “is as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” (See The Psychology of Hope for more.) Clearly we have to be in relationship with other people to be healthy physically.

Don’t Worry Be Happy Now

It would be great if it were as easy as deciding to be happy and suddenly you would become happy. It would be amazing to be able to make the decision to transform your life from one of stress and anxiety to one of peace and tranquility. In truth, this is sort of the case. Ultimately it’s a decision to view the world differently and choose different behaviors; however, the process is neither simple nor easy. It’s not as easy to, as Bobby McFerrin says, “don’t worry, be happy now,” but it is possible.

The process sometimes requires the assistance of drugs in the short term to lift someone out of the pit of depression. The drugs provide enough support for someone to do the work to change their perspective. Once sufficiently lifted from the clutches of depression, Dr. Glaser believes in his Choice Theory, which states that it’s our attempt to control others that makes us unhappy.

In short, if we can just allow other people to be separate people, and not try to control them, then we’ll be much happier. Though this is easier said than done, it is something that can be transformational.

Transformational Breakthrough or Emotional Breakdown

Looking from the outside in, it’s quite difficult to distinguish between a transformational breakthrough and an emotional breakdown. The observable behaviors are the same. We see a rapid transformation in someone. Often, there is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in both scenarios. It’s not a pleasant experience. However, after a transformational breakthrough, the clouds part and the skies are bright and shiny. With an emotional breakdown, there’s no clearing of the skies, and often the person feels stuck.

It’s very little wonder that a psychiatrist can’t tell the difference between a transformation and a breakdown. In the appendices, Dr. Glaser provides space for some other authors to share their stories. In one of the stories, a professional shares how he was himself on the wrong side of the profession. He was almost committed by his colleagues and spouse into institutions, and he was able to experience what it is really like to be a patient. His only recourse was to voluntarily commit himself so that he could leave on his own.

The triggering event in this case was really about questioning the path to recovery of patients. In questioning the status quo and transforming his thinking, he was considered to have a mental disease. His colleagues and spouse couldn’t see that he was gaining a new level of understanding – perhaps because this would have meant that they were missing something.

Conversion Disorder

Glaser believes that our psychological ills – our unhappiness or lack of mental health – causes our bodies to react in negative ways. This is consistent with the research of Spolsky in Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers. His belief is that many – if not all – of the diagnoses in the DSM-V (DSM-IV at the time of his writing) can be explained by the fact that people are unhappy, and the diagnoses in DSM-V are simply manifestations of that unhappiness.

Many of the non-specific cause illnesses he attributes to a lack of mental health. He suggests that, as people learn to be happier, their physical symptoms will eventually subside. While I am certainly not qualified to speak for every physical condition, I can say that I’ve personally seen remarkable changes with people who have become happier. Their physical issues are reduced.

At the heart of these changes and the increased happiness is a connection with others.

Group Think

One of the interesting structural decisions for the book was that it follows the path of a couple who were struggling with their own selfish and controlling needs through their recovery and sharing their discoveries with a group of their friends in a book club. The structure of the book is different than most in that it follows a story arc from the initial awareness of the ideas to how those same ideas apply to others in different situations.

Ultimately the book seeks to create groups – self-supporting, no-fee groups – that speak about Choice Theory and how it can positively transform lives. While I don’t believe this movement ever gained ground, it is a noble idea. The idea that groups – much like the concept of an AA group – could help improve the health of its members and provide them with the connections they need to become healthier is certainly an idea worth trying.

In fact, just reading and pondering on the thoughts inside of Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health is a worthy endeavor as well. After all, difficult or not, you do have a choice to be happy.

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Article: The Actors in Training Development

There’s a lot of attention on new delivery models, the desire to create shorter courses and the attempt to apply metrics to the training process. However, relatively little is being said about the fundamentals of the content development process. While there are absolutely differences in the way content is generated from one medium to another and from one organization to another, there are more similarities than there are differences. This article is the first in a series that will walk through the roles in the process, including how the process fits together and how the individual roles add to the result.

The start of the TrainingIndustry.com series, the Actors in Training Development. Read more…

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Article: Anatomy of a Software Development Role: DevOps

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I first wrote “Cracking the Code: Breaking Down the Software Development Roles” and the associated specific role articles. The world has changed substantially in the last dozen years, but strangely, relatively little has changed in the roles for software development—except in the transformation of the deployment role into what is now being called “DevOps”—a contraction of Development-Operations. In short, we’ve changed how we operationalize the deployment of our code into our environments and into customer systems. It’s time to address the changes that have come to the world of software deployment.

Part of the developer.com series, Anatomy of a Software Development Role. Read more…

Book Review-Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

It’s an artful thing to create the right choices so that people are nudged gently into the behaviors that are best for them. That’s what Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness is all about – helping people make the best choices for themselves. With the idea of libertarian paternalism, choice architects help to shape the way that people choose.

Choice Architects

Inherent in the idea that you can nudge someone is that doing so is subtle and something they barely notice. There is no such thing as a completely neutral design. Simple psychological factors, like the desire to pick the first option, means that choice architects carefully manage whose name is first on a ballot. Choice architects are the ones that are structuring the system such that the choice that is the best for people is the one they get most of the time.

Most of the time when we’re consumers, we have no idea what work has gone into the choice architecture. We don’t know that we’re subtly being engaged in ways that help us – or help the organization that we’re shopping with. However, these subtle influences are there, as we find impulse items on the end of the shelves in grocery stores and drive past stores that are having going out of business sales – continuously.

As architects of choices we rarely consider all the factors that might go into someone selecting a particular choice. Instead, we create a list of choices quickly and move on. Rarely do we think about the order that the choices occur in or what the default answer should be.

Nudge insists that there is no neutral choice design. So whatever we do, whether by intent or by design, will shift the results – at least slightly.

Libertarian Paternalism

Paternalism is thinking about the consumer as a child who cannot make good decisions. Authoritarian or dictatorial paternalism restricts the choices that consumers have, and only gives them the solution that they must “choose” because someone – a choice architect – said this is the only solution for them. Most of us would resist this attempt to enforce a choice on us. It’s what we expect out of communist dictators, and, certainly in the United States, we’re not going to stand for it.

Libertarian paternalism has the same basis but instead of preventing what the choice architect sees as sub-optimal solutions, the choices are allowed, but they’re deemphasized. The degree to which you must go out of your way to pick a different choice is a measure of how truly libertarian it is. If it’s easy to choose, it’s libertarian. If it’s hard to choose, it’s more authoritarian – disguised as a real choice.

The authors believe that libertarian paternalism is OK, or even a moral obligation where authoritarian paternalism is wrong, but admit that the line between these two extremes isn’t always the easiest to distinguish.

The goal is to balance the number of people getting the perceived optimal solution while maintaining their ability to make choices for themselves.

The Paradox of Choice

The first step is to ensure that the person has as many options available as makes sense. The challenge with this is knowing how many options make sense. In an ideal world, every option would be available to the chooser, but in a practical world, choices promote inaction, and inaction is frequently (if not always) not the best option.

The Paradox of Choice skillfully points out that we like our choices less the more options we have – and we make fewer decisions. In short, more options are the enemy to actions. If we want someone to make a choice, we need to manage the number of options.

Forced Choice

Brené Brown is careful when confronted with forced choices – “either-or dilemmas,” as she calls them. She wonders in Rising Strong who has something to gain by forcing the choice. In the case of our nudges, the hope is that the person making the choice is benefited. With an ethical choice architect, the forced choice causes the person to steer their own course. With luck, the choice architect created the situation to keep most of the people off the rocks most of the time.

The forced choice is a tool of the choice architect. They get to make someone choose between A or B, and in the process cause the person to indicate what they think is better. The problem with the forced choice, in addition to whether it really serves the person making the choice, is that too few people take action, even when faced with a straightforward choice, and what is to be done with the folks that fail to make a choice.

The Power of Default

The next tool in the choice architect’s toolbox is the power of the default option. If you do nothing, you’ll get option C. This option is often very powerful in terms of the number of people that fall into it. The option is typically one which isn’t particularly risky, because no one wants to inflict undue risk on someone just because they didn’t decide; so the choice architect creates a safer, but less rewarding, option to be the default.

We learned that the default answer is the one which is taken when neither the rider nor the elephant are paying attention to what’s happening. (See Rider-Elephant-Path in The Happiness Hypothesis for more on how powerful the defaults are.) The default is all too often the most popular answer, because people making the decisions are neither experts nor sufficiently engaged to research the correct result.

Inertia

Without insisting that the default is a specific action, most consumers fall victim to the “status quo bias.” That is, they expect that things are going relatively OK now, so why would they change? In fact, while we sometimes describe people as change adverse, it’s not that they’re change adverse at all, they just see no point in it.

John Kotter’s work in The Heart of Change and Leading Change includes a model, in which first step is to break this inertia by creating a sense of urgency. This is sometimes called a “burning platform” from which people must jump. While this is an aggressive strategy, it’s often needed to fight the strong pull of the status quo bias.

Controlled by Experts

Too often, consumers find themselves in a foreign land. The foreign land isn’t on any map that you find, but is instead demarcated by the front door of the store they walk into. Whether it’s buying a new TV or shopping for wine for a special evening, the consumer is rarely as educated as the store workers. In this scenario, it’s relatively easy for the salesperson to overwhelm you with technical jargon and features and to nudge you into purchasing what they want you to buy.

In retail, particularly electronics, it’s common for manufacturers to run contests for store employees based on their ability to sell that manufacturer’s products – sometimes even a single product. In these cases, the manufacturers are intentionally tipping the scales in their direction through nudging the sales folks.

Nudging and Shoving

The distance between a nudge and a shove are often too close to call. Nudges aren’t forced: they are, after all, libertarian paternalism. But even in the spirit of not removing options, sometimes the influence of the “expert” salesperson can drive people to a product in a way that feels more like a shove than a nudge.

The focus of the book is on nudges, though it’s clear that, by knowing what is a nudge and not a shove, there’s an inherent risk that some people will use shoves instead of nudges – because in the short term, they’re often more effective.

Mistakes in Choosing

Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow and Hubbard in How to Measure Anything speak volumes about how our ability to make guesses, the right choices, and decisions can be systemically flawed. The rules of thumb that we use to make our decisions are sometimes grossly distorted in their applicability or effectiveness. I have a deck that isn’t square on the house, because the person I hired used the rule of thumb – based on the Pythagorean theorem – of a side length of 3 feet and a side length of 4 feet should have a diagonal of 5 feet. That’s easy enough when the deck is small, but when it’s a 20′ by 40′ deck, the amount of measurement error is substantial.

It’s because people make so many mistakes in choosing that it’s important that choice architects exist to disrupt the incorrect application of rules of thumb or other knowledge in domains where it’s not helpful.

Unintended Consequences

It used to be that Christmas clubs were great ways for banks to make money. People deposited money on a regular basis in an account that accrued little or no interest. They could withdraw these funds to purchase gifts for Christmas. It was an ingenious idea for the banks and, at a level, helped consumers. No one wanted to be caught short at Christmas and be unable to buy toys for their children. So the banks really won, and the consumers who weren’t capable of saving throughout the year with normal options were given a solution.

However, another choice opened. That is, the ability to charge things on credit. So now, even if you didn’t have the money to pay for the toys that you wanted to get your children, you could borrow that money on a credit card and pay a substantially higher interest rate on the money that you borrowed – making the banks more money.

This is a case where the choices got away from the choice architects but in a way that further favored the banks. No one would have necessarily predicted that credit cards would virtually eliminate Christmas clubs, but that’s what they did. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more on unintended consequences – even on well-intended interventions.)

Social Nudges

While I’ve shared about structural nudges – those relying on the architecture of the situation – they are not necessarily the most powerful. As is revealed in Influencer, there are many ways to influence a person, some of which are social. Social nudges have accomplices who sway the decisions of others. Whether the accomplices are knowing accomplices being paid, or are instead just caught up in the system themselves and decide to amplify the message to capture others through social media, they are accomplices nonetheless.

The researcher Solomon Asch demonstrated that if you asked someone a simple question, you could get 100% right answers – unless the subject heard someone else give the wrong answer. In those cases, even though the questions were easy, the subjects gave incorrect answers as much as 1/3rd of the time.

Epidemics

So powerful are social nudges that they can sometimes create a panic. In Seattle in 1954, there was an epidemic of windshield pitting – that never actually was. Someone noticed pitting on their windshield and shared this with their friends, who also noticed the pitting. They got together to wonder what was causing this damage to their cars and proceeded to drag more people and media in. That is, until it was finally concluded that pitting was a normal effect of driving a car. The pits had been with the cars all along, but someone noticed them, and concern for folks’ precious cars continued to feed more energy into the epidemic.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens all the time where something has been going on “forever”, gets discovered, and becomes some conspiracy plot that must be addressed.

Priming

Epidemics are facilitated through a concept called “priming”. That is, we’re more likely to follow a train of thought once it has been laid down. This is at the heart of social hacking. Social hacking is the art of gaining access to systems, equipment, or information by use of social, rather than technical, means. In simple terms, just getting someone to say yes a few times before they answer a question they should tell you no to increases the likelihood that they’ll say yes. (See my book review of Social Hacking for more.)

By creating the expectation that there is something going on or a preferred choice, we sensitize our reticular activating system (RAS) and become more aware. The RAS is important for our wake-sleep cycle, but also pays a critical role in what we look for – and what we look for, we’ll find. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

Checklist for the Choice Architect

As choice architects, we should consider how to create effective nudges, and here’s a book-provided mnemonic for that:

  • iNcentives
  • Understand mappings
  • Defaults
  • Give feedback
  • Expect error
  • Structure complex choices

You may not get your nudges exactly right but maybe this review is just the nudge you need to read Nudges.

Book Review-Coachbook: A Guide to Organizational Coaching Strategies and Practices

After years of study on organizational change, the need for coaching and how organizations are changed through coaching, Coachbook: A Guide to Organizational Coaching Strategies and Practices was a very welcome framework which I can now use to view the various coaching activities that I and others pursue. It provides a language for understanding how all coaching isn’t created the same.

The Need for Coaching

Coaching is the integration of counseling – which is focused on the heart or emotions of a person – and consulting – which is focused on the head and logic of a person. Coaching recognizes that these are not two disconnected systems which operate in isolation, but are instead a set of systems that interact with one another. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on System 1, emotions, and System 2, reason.) Research has shown that this kind of assistance is frequently useful to the bottom line with positive returns on the investment.

It’s no wonder that the coaching process works. It helps people understand how to work with other people. Despite our more technologically-connected world, most employees “live in solitude, working in emotional isolation as performers, decision-makers, and people who must relate their own personal values with those of their organization.” In short, we’re simultaneously more connected and in touch with one another, while at the same time being more relationally disconnected. (See Alone Together for more about the impact of technology on our ability to connect with one another.)

Positive Not Negative

A differentiating factor for coaching is that its use is less about resolving performance problems and is more frequently used to improve performance. Where counseling is frequently focused on addressing problems and mental illness, coaching is about moving towards healthier behaviors, decisions, and aspirations.

In coaching professional athletes, the professional coach is removing performance barriers – like the famous four-minute mile in running. (You can read more about the four-minute mile in The Rise of Superman.) Professional coaches are rarely remediating poor performers. More frequently, they’re enhancing the performance of professionals that are already successful but want to be more successful. (See Peak for more on the use of coaches to improve performance.)

Coaches of professional athletes typically have an appreciation for those they are coaching because they themselves tried to perform in the sport, and either could only do so for a time or never reached the level of performance that their coachee is reaching. As a result, there is a genuine appreciation for the skill that the coachee has developed. A renowned psychologist Carl Rogers (see A Way of Being for a summary of his lifelong work) suggested that people are more likely to change when they have received positive regard, or appreciation.

Types of Coaching

There are three basic types of coaching, each with their own sub-specialties:

  • Behavioral Coaching – Focused on immediate behavior, behavioral coaching solves a specific behavioral problem.
    • Engagement – Helping prepare for a difficult or important interaction
    • Empowerment – Preparation for a difficult and important situation
    • Opportunity – Preparation for a major event in one’s life
  • Decisional Coaching – Focusing on a specific decision to be addressed, decisional coaching helps the coachee to understand the various aspects of the decision and the options – including options that might not have been visible.
    • Reflective – Deliberations about opinions, assumptions, and beliefs
    • Instrumented – Learning about one’s preferences and strengths through validated instruments
    • Observational – Greater awareness of one’s actions and their impacts
  • Aspirational Coaching – Focusing on key beliefs and bringing them more to life in daily actions, aspirational coaching focuses on improvements rather than removing barriers.
    • Spiritual – Connecting with spiritual thinking and becoming more aware of this often-suppressed component of personality
    • Philosophical – Critical evaluation of frames of reference and perspectives, including how these may be self-limiting
    • Ethical – Evaluation of the values and ethics of oneself and others around
    • Career – Specific career coaching about where one’s career could go

Types of Challenges

Part of applying coaching effectively is to match the kind of coaching to the kind of challenge being faced. Applying aspirational coaching to a puzzle results in a mismatch.

  • Puzzles – Everyday issues with solvable answers that often come in a single form. There is a “right” answer.
  • Problems – Multiple perspectives generate multiple potential solutions – many of which may work with varying degrees of effectiveness.
  • Dilemmas – These types are impervious to a definitive solution. This level typically meets the minimum definition of what Horst Riddle would call “wicked” problems. (See Dialogue Mapping for more.)
  • Mysteries – These types of challenges are too complex to understand and are ultimately unknowable. That is, they are particularly thorny wicked problems.

Each of these different types of challenges requires a different kind of coaching strategy to solve. You can’t pretend that every challenge that a coachee is facing is the same, or that the same coaching techniques can move them closer to a solution.

Different Values and Perspectives

One of the general objectives of coaching is to help people appreciate others with different values and perspectives than theirs. In every organization, there are many different people, each of them with their own unique set of values and perspectives. (See Who Am I? and The Normal Personality for Reiss’ 16-factor model of values as an example.) By teaching about the differing values and perspectives that others can have, it’s possible to enhance performance.

In my work, I often hear, “I just can’t understand what they were thinking.” Of course, one possible answer is that they weren’t thinking. (See the Rider-Elephant-Path model in The Happiness Hypothesis for more about what happens when we “don’t think.”) The more frequent answer is that the person doesn’t understand that others hold differing values. For instance, I am not a person that highly values status, and thus I don’t drive a fancy car. This is unthinkable to someone who is high on status. (This value has a risk of “must-be-seen-as,” which I covered in my review of The Anatomy of Peace.)

Coaching Skills

Coaching isn’t a single skill or even discipline. Coaching is a collection of interrelated skills that allow someone to enhance the performance of another. There are five key skills that Coachbook identifies:

  • Freeing Communication – This is active listening as discussed in Parent Effectiveness Training and Motivational Interviewing.
  • Contextual Knowing – Helping match the theory and model of operation to the situation. (See the implications of context on knowledge in review of The New Edge in Knowledge.)
  • Feeling through Action – Helping the coachee act on their feelings.
  • Reflective Inquiry – Reviewing the inferences that the client has made to reach their perspective. (See Chris Argyris’ Ladder of inference in my review of Choice Theory.)
  • Coaching Leadership – The keys are for the coach themselves to always be learning, to walk with the coachee through their risks, and remember that coaches are servants. (See Servant Leadership for more on being a servant leader.)

While these aren’t an exhaustive set of skills that a coach should have, it’s a good start. If you’re interested in more skills, consider that the skills match for a therapist is very high, so you may find skills like those discussed in The Heart and Soul of Change.

Performance – Alone and Together

We often use training to enhance performance. In fact, most performance enhancement groups inside of organizations are called training departments. However, there are really two radically different kinds of training that these organizations deliver.

The first individual, performance-focused training is technical training. That is, it’s training that helps individual contributors be more effective at their jobs. This training is essential for individual contributors who need to develop sufficient skill to complete their work. However, this individual technical training isn’t enough when it’s necessary to coordinate activities between multiple people.

When working on the performance problems of teams, the solution isn’t technical training. The solution is communication and collaboration training. The performance of teams is highly dependent on the ability of the team to work efficiently with one another – and that requires a different kind of training.

Coaches provide communication and collaboration assistance – if not direct training – in the service of improving overall group performance.

Lifecycle of a Team

There’s a classic model for the progression of teams which goes like this:

  • Forming – When the team is established and people are learning what the team is about.
  • Storming – The phase where the team develops its customs and norms.
  • Norming – Stabilization and deepening of relationships as the group begins to know what to expect from one another.
  • Performing – The output phase of the group where productivity is at its peak.
  • Adjourning – The phase where the group is disbanding and returning to their other roles or moving on to the next team.

Coaches can help organizations develop effective teams by helping the teams to get set up on the right path from the very beginning. After all, Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence estimates that 60 percent of a group’s ultimate performance is established in the preparation and forming of the group.

Meeting Types

There are, according to Coachbook, four kinds of meetings:

  • Information Dissemination Meetings – Meetings designed to inform and only lightly accept feedback.
  • Conflict Management Meetings – Opportunities to “clear the air” and allow everyone to be heard and share their respective positions to diffuse potentially explosive conflict.
  • Problem Solving Meetings – Focused on the resolution of some sort of challenge, these meetings have a specific goal of solving a specific problem.
  • Decision Making Meetings – When a decision must be made, often decision-making meetings are called so that everyone can participate in the decision process – and can commit to executing the decision after the meeting.

No matter what kind of meeting you’re holding, The Four Disciplines of Execution has approaches to be effective.

Reframing

One of the most powerful things that a coach can do is to help a coachee to reframe their situation. As Epictetus said, “it’s not the things themselves which trouble us, but the opinions that we have about these things.” That is, much of what we make of something is how we walk up Chris Argyris’ ladder of inference. It’s about how we interpret things more than what the things themselves are.

We all suffer from the fundamental attribution error – that is, we tend to see our negative behavior as the result of our circumstances, and other people’s negative behavior as a result of their character. (See The Advantage for more on fundamental attribution error.) A coach can help the situation by creating an awareness that it may not be the character of the person that is the problem, it may be their circumstances. In doing so, it’s possible to develop empathy and reduce anger or frustration. The result is often a more productive and healthy relationship.

Dualism and Relativism

Often, we hear that people are concrete thinkers or that they believe only in black or white. We hear that they miss the subtly of gray. This is an expression of dualism – that is, either-or thinking. Dualism may be sometimes portrayed as a bad thing; in truth, the clarity of dualism makes decisions easier and promotes action – but it does so at the expense of understanding the nuances of the situation.

Relativism allows us to float above the fray and answer with, “it depends.” This may improve interpersonal relations and reduce conflict in the short term; however, it has its own set of drawbacks. Folks who are focused on relativism tend to be unable to move things forward. They spend so much time in the nuances that they forget what they were initially working on.

The trick in coaching isn’t to rely on one or the other strategy – to push folks one way or the other. Instead, the goal should be to balance dualism with its rapid action and relativism with its desire to seek into the nuances.

You Are Unique, but Not Alone

In the end, good coaching reassures you that you’re not alone. It reassures you that you’re like others while simultaneously helping you to recognize your own unique value. It’s possible to get this point on your own, like Carl Rogers expresses in A Way of Being; however, it’s easier and better with a coach.

If you’ve looked for a good coach and couldn’t find what you were looking for – or you are a coach and you’re confused when your coaching clients don’t get the value out of your services – you’re not alone. Perhaps it’s time to add Coachbook to your repertoire so you know how to hire the coach you need – or, as a coach, how to better help your clients.

The Making of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users: 2016

A few weeks ago, we launched the 2016 version of the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users. This is our fourth build of the productivity aid and book since its 2007 release. Updating and delivering the content is something we know how to do. Our big achievement for this release wasn’t in the content – though it continues to get better – the big advancements this time was transforming the way the content looked when it was deployed to SharePoint.

Goodbye Wiki Version, Hello Publishing

We often spoke of the corporate edition by calling it the “wiki” edition. That was because the corporate edition deployed as a wiki library in the client’s SharePoint. This was convenient, because it allowed users to be able to modify the pages on their own. It also meant that we could sell the Shepherd’s Guide to users with Windows SharePoint Services or SharePoint Foundation and they would be able to use it because wiki libraries were available in every version of SharePoint.

However, times have changed. Microsoft is no longer offering a SharePoint Foundation version, and therefore every customer for SharePoint 2016 will have at least SharePoint Server Standard, which includes publishing pages. For us, this was great, primarily because it allowed us to solve some formatting problems that had plagued the content due to the nature of the wiki’s HTML processing (or mangling) engine.

If you read the book you saw that we had full-color highlights in the text to indicate which things you were supposed to click on. When we generated the HTML for the wiki, these were stripped by the HTML engine. We lived without these highlights that we had painstakingly put into the content because there wasn’t a solution. However, with the 2016 version and the migration to publishing pages, we could get them back in the corporate edition.

The use of the publishing feature allows us to structure the content better and improves some other handling, but the big value of this move is in how we allow you to customize your content.

Customizing Content

One of the hallmarks of the SharePoint Shepherd solution since its initial release has been the ability to customize the content. You can customize what we provide as well as adding new content of your own. None of the other help solutions for SharePoint allow you to do this. It’s been one of the things that customers have repeatedly told us was essential to their needs. They were using the Shepherd’s Guide to get a head start on their support for their users, and customizing was a big deal.

Historically, we’ve not needed to do many updates to the content once it was released. Microsoft started changing this in SharePoint 2013 when they changed SkyDrive to OneDrive post-release. The changes for SharePoint 2016 are anticipated to include the new modern UI. That meant we had to plan for situations where we were updating content and users were updating the same content. We needed an elegant way to manage updates in a more fluid way.

The switch to publishing allows us to do this. We track the version of the content we deploy. If the user changes the content, we detect this and we don’t overwrite their content. Instead, we post a non-major version of the content into the library. The impact of this is that editors can look for items which aren’t published as major versions to evaluate the content that we have updates for and decide whether to keep their changes our ours. It also means that the standard tools in SharePoint work to help you identify changes in the content.

In doing this we’ve delivered a way for you to both receive updates and to customize your content at the same time.

Multiple Versions

While listening to customers, we began to hear about organizations that were struggling with multiple versions of SharePoint. They had everything from SharePoint 2007 through Office 365 and the support staff was struggling to provide answers on how to do things no matter what the version of SharePoint. So, we added support for multiple versions of the Shepherd’s Guide content – including the ability to instantly shift from one version of the content to another – from every page.

If you’re looking at a task in the 2016 version, you can go back to the 2007 version of the guide because that’s the actual version you’re trying to use – or the user interface is stuck in that version. Users can find the version of the guide that matches their user interface and get the help they need.

The Ultimate Solution

While we still sell the Shepherd’s Guide by version as a one-time purchase, we’ve added a new way to get the guide. The Ultimate Guide includes every version of the guide we’ve published, including updates. As Office 365 continues to evolve, we’ll publish updates and provide them as a part of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Ultimate Guide for End Users. This subscription-based offering will allow you to have all the end user support content you need for your users no matter what version they’ve been on – or will be on.

The ultimate solution allows you to create your own content, edit ours, and stay up to date all at the same time. There’s no reason to build your own support content for SharePoint. We’ve got that covered.

Look at what we’re doing with the ultimate guide on the SharePoint Shepherd site at www.SharePointShepherd.com/Ultimate.

OneDrive Sync to a SharePoint Library with a Required Field

A few months ago, I upgraded to the next generation sync client for OneDrive for all my synchronization to SharePoint libraries, and one of my libraries – on all the computers I synchronize to – had a problem. When I would try to edit files from the library, Word was complaining that the files were read-only, or I was out of space. When I went to the back office, it showed me that the file was an offline copy.

In file explorer, I saw little green locks overlaying the document icon.

I couldn’t figure out what the issue was because check in/out wasn’t required, or even turned on, in the library. Approvals weren’t required and versioning was set for major versions. None of the files were declared as in-place records, nor were they on a legal hold. I ultimately disabled a workflow to find that it wasn’t an issue with workflows running on the library. I was mystified until I walked someone through every field on the list. I realized that one of the fields – status – was a choice field with a default set, but it was also set to required. As soon as I set the field to not required, every file in the library resynchronized and the lock icon disappeared and was replaced with a checkmark (indicating it had synchronized).

So, even though all of the documents had the required field, and a default was provided, OneDrive (the new sync client) refused to synchronize the library correctly with a required field. Because of the integration between OneDrive and the Office applications, they were refusing to sync files too.

If you’re wondering why you can’t save documents or why you have little green locks… perhaps all that’s required is to set the fields to not be required.

Book Review-A Way of Being

I started 2017 off with my review of Motivational Interviewing, which serves as a structure for how to communicate with those who are struggling to help them be more successful. It’s foundationally based on active listening, which is attributed to Thomas Gordon in Parent Effectiveness Training. The other foundation of motivational interviewing is the work of Carl Rogers, so I decided to look into A Way of Being, one of his final works. It wasn’t a single-threaded thought expressed across the pages of a book. Instead it was a collection of essays, presentations, and papers that together form a sense for this great psychologist who urged us to listen and truly hear people as they speak.

Psychology the Profession

I have both a deep respect for psychology and an uneasiness about how it’s been used over the years. I’ve seen, through the works of others and personally, how it can be misused. (See House of Cards, The Cult of Psychology Testing, and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for some of the underbelly of this profession.) Rogers was present at the formation of psychology as a profession. He was the president of the American Psychological Association in 1947 and was also aware of the problems with creating any profession.

Rogers acknowledged that credentials didn’t completely separate the good psychologists from the bad ones – or those who shouldn’t be licensed. He recognized that non-credentialed laypersons were doing more good than some of the credentialed psychologists of his day. He also acknowledged that the key challenge with codifying something into a profession is the fact that in doing so you necessarily retard the growth of the practice of the profession. Credentialing relies upon agreement on the skills and beliefs that a credentialed person should have, and that necessarily must lag the exploration at the edges of the profession.

However, the perspective is one of awareness, as he could see the mind-expanding properties of education and the mind-shrinking properties of traditional therapy. Education expanded the boundaries of the mind, where therapy typically shrank the number of options.

Really Listening

It was in the 1970s when Gordon wrote Parent Effectiveness Training and spoke of active listening. As radical as this was for its time, Rogers had been gradually refining an approach of person-centered therapy, where listening to what the client was really saying was core. He had realized that when someone was in a crisis what they often needed most was for someone to understand them. They needed someone to connect with them through language and words. They needed to be heard.

This is the core of active listening – reflecting what the other person says in a way that helps them know that they were heard and understood. It’s in that way that you connect with them and help them know that they’re not alone.

Separateness

In person-centered therapy, you intentionally connect with someone to understand their world without accepting it as your own. By allowing the other person to have their opinions without trying to persuade them of something different, you both recognize where they are as well as accept that their answer is not the only answer. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on allowing.) There is both acceptance of the other person and boundaries between their reality and your reality. (See Boundaries for more on boundaries, and Choice Theory for more on inner world realities.) Rogers deeply believed in the right for others to have their views – even if they contradicted his own.

Outside Looking In

One of the comments that caught my attention was, “In my younger years, although I was not a hero-worshiper, I definitely looked up to a number of men whom I felt were ‘real psychologists,’ whereas I existed on a poorly accepted fringe.” I think the reason this comment was so interesting was because I believe that we all have experienced this belief that we’re on the outside, or that we’re not doing the “real work” of the profession. It’s refreshing to know that some of the men who defined their professions have felt like they too were on the outside once.

It’s comforting that everyone feels like they’re on the outside looking in at what others are doing, which seems to be more impactful or more relevant to the profession. For me, it was learning to do software development and considering those professionals creating compilers and new languages. I felt like I didn’t understand. Later in my career, it was those folks who were doing agile development or learning patterns before I had time to learn and use these techniques.

As I spent more time in the industry, I realized that there is an ugliness that doesn’t show from the outside. I’ve seen how projects that were trumpeted as winners never accomplished their goals. However, the press coverage was good.

Wanting but Not Expecting

Rogers continues later: “Writing is my way of communicating with a world to which, in a very real sense, I feel I do not quite belong. I wish very much to be understood, but I don’t expect to be,” after relating that psychologists aren’t interested in new ideas – in ideas that challenge the status quo. It’s easier to accept that we have the answers rather than question whether we do or don’t.

Inherent in people – including Rogers, you, and I – is that we want to be understood. As the father of person-centered therapy, he knew this completely. He desired to be fully understood and at some level knew, because of his intelligence and his different view of the world, that he wouldn’t be. He chose to write his ideas, to give him time to optimize their clarity and to articulate the dimensions of his thoughts.

However, no matter how much he crafted his prose, he never expected to be fully understood. He longed for people of his era to understand his message and simultaneously didn’t expect that this was possible. At some level, this feels like a lonely place. He’s the misunderstood artist. He’s the genius that no one gets.

The people that I respect the most are people who feel a bit like misfits. They have a message burning inside of them, but they feel as if they may not be able to get the message through to a world that needs it. I feel this way at times. I identify with the thought that there are parts of my experience that are difficult, if not impossible, to relate to others.

We Have a Choice

The debates of Roger’s day reverberated through social consciousness and are still felt today. Skinner and some of his colleagues believed that man has no choices, that humans are a result of their genetics and environments, and therefore don’t have the choice in how they act. Everything is preprogrammed and running like a large clock down until the end. This, however, denies free will and the ability for us to make our own choices and alter the course of our lives. If you’re driven by the desire to help people, thinking that you’re helpless to influence your goal isn’t motivating.

The repercussions of the disagreement between Skinner and Rogers can be felt today. Dweck had to study and write about the idea of a fixed vs. a growth mindset. (See Mindset for more.) We read of the different ways that people see time in The Time Paradox. Depending upon your frame of reference, we’re either prisoners traveling in the train of time, or we’re conductors of the train guiding our own destinies. Glasser struggles for acceptance of his Choice Theory because we’re so caught up in controlling others by controlling their experiences.

Ultimately, the growth of Motivational Interviewing and other techniques that can be helpful to others are proof that we do have a choice in how we act and react. I suppose the counter-argument is that it’s hard, as evidenced by John Kotter’s often-quoted responses about most organizational change initiatives failing.

Quenching of Desires

Maslow wasn’t wrong when he expressed his hierarchy of needs, but he wasn’t entirely right either. We all have basic needs that we need met. We start with physiological needs like air, water, and food, and move up the hierarchy to self-actualization. Where he wasn’t quite right is that we don’t work on the lower level to the exclusion of the higher level. He said that we work on it to sufficiency before proceeding, but that misses the fundamental element of time. We satiate or quench our desires, but we never fully put them out.

When hunger rears its head, it can block or delay higher pursuits; but sometimes we can delay our hunger to obtain our higher-level goals. We quench our thirst for water for a while. It takes mental energy to pursue higher goals while our lower needs are not fully met, while at the same time we know that our lower-level needs may never be completely met.

Degeneration and Generation

Entropy says that the universe is a clock that is slowly winding down. The complex order of things is being disrupted by the continual decline and deterioration of things. However, on the opposite side of the fence, we know that stars convert less complex atoms into more complex – or at least heavier – atoms. We know that there are forces that are converting single-celled organisms into multi-celled organisms. There is generation as well as degeneration happening at the same time.

Bohm (see On Dialogue) described the growth of a tree from an acorn as the emergence of the tree through the aperture of the acorn. It would be silly to say that the tree was inside the acorn. The tree is much more voluminous and has a much higher mass. However, when considered as the opening through which the tree emerges, one can see that the tree isn’t inside the acorn – but the acorn is the way the tree comes into being.

The constant ebb and flow of generation and deterioration means that there is change. People can and do change. They have the capacity to tear down old patterns of behavior and create new ones where the old ones were, like a forest that sprouts up new life where a fire has occurred.

The Demands on the Therapist

Another one of Roger’s quotes that is intriguing is, “As I have considered this evidence and also my own experience in the training of therapists, I come to the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that the more psychologically mature and integrated the therapist is, the more helpful is the relationship that he or she provides. This puts a heavy demand on the therapist as a person.” In other words, one has to be very centered and mentally healthy themselves to withstand the buffeting by those that they seek to support. They must be open to the inner turmoil that exists in the worlds of their patients while not losing themselves.

I often think about the scene from The Matrix where Nero no longer dodges the bullets. He stops them, investigates one, then drops it. This is powerful. The ability to see the “slings and arrows” fired your way while not reacting to them is something Buddhists train extensively for.

While neither you nor I are likely to be therapists, A Way of Being can help us understand what it is like to be a fellow, supportive human being.

Announcing: The End User’s Guide to Manual Migration

Over the years, I’ve helped numerous clients migrate from one implementation of SharePoint to another. Sometimes this was because of version upgrades, sometimes as they migrated to the cloud, and sometimes just because their first implementation was so “challenging.” Over the years, I picked up a few useful ways to think about the migration process when you’re asking a user to do it. I created a two-page guide (one sheet, double-sided) that we would share with every user as a part of the migration process. However, it didn’t look that good.

So, I partnered with Sharegate to help “make it pretty”. The result is available on their web site at https://get.share-gate.com/manual-migration-reference-guide. It may seem weird that an organization that sells migration tools would be interested in helping you know how to do it yourself. However, the truth is, they care about you getting to the new platform. In some cases, the right answer is their tools. In other cases, the right answer is for the users to migrate the content themselves. If you’re looking for a guide that you can share with your users, check it out.

Book Review-Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture and Organizational Design

The first quote from the book in my notes is, “Anyone who has spent time in an organization knows that dysfunctional behavior abounds. Conflict is frequently avoided or pushed underground rather than dealt with openly.” This is the heart of why I knew I needed to read Chris Argyris’ book, Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture, and Organizational Design. I knew of his work through other authors, including Peter Singe’s The Fifth Discipline, Jeff Conklin’s Dialogue Mapping, and William Isaacs Dialogue. I’ve used his ladder of inference in my presentations before. It was finally time to get around to reading how he saw organizational traps.

In Organizational Traps, Argyris walks us through the traps that organizations find themselves in and to a lesser extent what to do about it.

Double Binds

Chinese finger traps are fun to play with once you know how they work. Until then, it can be an infuriating situation to have your fingers caught in a device that gets tighter the harder that you pull. This is the nature at the root of organizational problems. It’s a trap that prevents you from moving forward – or backwards. It’s a set of circumstances that are hard to get out of by their nature. The system is set up such that problems occur.

Systems thinking is the idea that the structure of the system can drive outcomes in sometimes unpredictable ways. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more on systems thinking.) Organizations create double binds unintentionally: they’re the side effect of incompatible and conflicting instructions.

I mentioned that I took a stand-up comedy course some time ago in my post I Am a Comedian. What I didn’t mention was the double bind that we were put in as students. On the one hand, we were encouraged to learn a famous comedian’s material and be able to deliver it. On the other hand, we were nudged on the issues around plagiarism and told not to be too rigid on the stage. Necessarily to deliver someone else’s material requires that you maintain their posture and timing – which means you can’t be relaxed. I pointed this out to the instructors and they dropped the recommendation to learn someone else’s material and there by eliminated the double bind.

Defensive Routines

While working on my review for Dialogue, I wrote an entire post on defensive routines. These unconscious responses trigger us to defend our position. We experience diffuse physiological activation (DPA) and have our thinking compromised. (See The Science of Trust for more on DPA.) These defensive routines are in operation by default, because our brain functions mostly on what Kahnman calls “System 1”. That is, the automatic, pattern-matching, threat monitoring, low-power lizard parts of our brain, not the System 2 executive function that is the heart of our consciousness (see Thinking, Fast and Slow).

The Difference Between Saying and Doing

The largest gap on the planet earth isn’t the Mariana Trench or the Grand Canyon. The largest gap is between saying and doing. The largest gap exists between what people say they do and what they actually do. There are three reasons why people don’t say what they do:

  1. They forget
  2. They are unavoidably prevented
  3. They don’t do the hard work.

This gap between saying and doing – the fortitude to do what you say you’ll do – is a bedrock foundation upon which defenses against organizational traps sits. (See my post The Largest Gap in the World.)

Espoused Beliefs

There’s another reason why people don’t do what they say they’re going to do. In short, they don’t realize that they’re not doing it. They believe that they’ll do the right thing, whether it comes to finding a lost item, or making a decision to help an elderly lady cross the street – but too often they don’t. An old study was performed with seminary students and an accomplice. The study had the students head across campus to an important interview. Between them and their goal was a person, the accomplice,ho was seemingly in distress. This should have seemed like a perfect example of the Good Samaritan story from the Bible. Despite this, few students stopped to help the person who was seemingly struggling.

When we’re aware of our gap between statement and action, it’s one thing. It’s quite another to observe people who are behaving in a way inconsistent with their espoused beliefs. Sometimes it’s these gaps between what we say we believe and what we actually do that become undiscussable in an organization, because it’s uncomfortable to be shown how you’re not behaving in ways which are consistent with what you say you believe.

Discussing the Undiscussable

There’s a saying in recovery circles that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” This is an admonishment at a personal level that it’s important to communicate with others and share your burden – not so much as a solution than as an invitation for others to share your space. At an organizational level, the same principles apply. The organization’s sicknesses are revealed in the undiscussable items in the organization.

Just as the healthiest people are those who are capable about speaking of their weaknesses, so too the healthiest organizations have few undiscussable or taboo items. Instead of running and hiding from the hard parts of the organization, they expose them to the light of day, so that their true size is exposed. The result is quite often that the taboo topic wasn’t as big and scary as it seemed.

Slay the Sacred Cows

Every organization has sacred cows. Those things that “must” be. However, when organizations define themselves by things that must remain the same, they often die as the world changes around them. The Pony Express might have been a great company, but defining themselves as the “Pony Express” rather than accepting their role as communications delivery, they died when the railroad could transport mail faster.

If National Cash Register (NCR) was still exclusively in the business of cash registers, they would not have survived. While not thriving today, they’ve had a pretty good run as an organization. They survived – and at points in their history thrived – because they were willing to slay their sacred cows and say that cash registers aren’t going to be their core business or their only business.

When an organization is ready to slay its sacred cows and the market is not, the market will help the organization stay true to its roots. When Netflix wanted to split into two brands, the market told them that this wasn’t the right move, and they went back to a company that used mail delivery for DVDs and one that delivered videos via streaming. Ironically, Netflix’s name reflects the true desire of the leadership, who were adapting with mail delivery until their vision could become a reality. They’re raising their sacred cow – that someday to survive they’ll have to slay.

Confronting Conflict

The challenge with slaying sacred cows is that it invariably means conflict, and many of us are conflict adverse. We don’t like it, and so it’s hard to stay “in the fight” when you don’t like fights in the first place. In the workplace, the challenges around failing to have what Vital Smarts calls Crucial Conversations leads to a lack of transparency and trust that ultimately lead to the downward spiral of an organization.

Confronting conflict, while difficult to do, is the best way of disrupting the organizational traps and diffusing them. By refusing to “play the game” you’re uncovering and disarming the traps so that no one can step in them. Too few organizations value the need for appropriate, natural, and healthy conflict inside the organization.

Trust

The move to being able to have crucial conversations isn’t a one step process. Developing the capacity in the organization to have those hard conversations requires more than a fair degree of trust. When your family’s welfare is on the line, you’ve got to trust – really trust—that the organization won’t get rid of you just because you’re having the hard conversations. Most people who have been in business for a while have seen people who were the “trouble makers” get separated from the company. You can’t be a disruptor if your livelihood depends upon the organization and you simply can’t risk being let go.

Trust flows in both directions though. Leadership in the organization needs to trust that your motives for discussing an issue aren’t self-serving or designed to make the leadership look bad. They have to develop a trust that the reason for talking about things is to help the organization become better.

Eventually when enough trust develops it’s possible to start the journey towards dialogue.

Dialogue

If organizational traps are in the breakdown of communication, then dialogue is the daily vitamin that helps prevent the illness. Rather than repeat a discussion on this topic here, I’ll refer you to my three-part review of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together
and my post Discussion and Dialogue for Learning. Dialogue is the antidote to many of the organizational traps that Argyris shares.

Self-Fueling and Self Sealing – The Power of Traps

The problem with Organizational Traps are that they’re self-fueling and self-sealing. They’re a system that has its own positive feedback loops, making them self-fueling. Once you stop talking about one sacred cow, it’s easy to ignore the herd that follows. The self-sealing nature of the pain associated with cleaning up the mess of having not dialogued about items makes it harder to start the conversation. In this way, organizational traps function because they load themselves and spread throughout the organization. That is, unless you have someone or a group of people who intentionally set out to disarm organizational traps to help the organization be its best.

I wouldn’t expect that reading Organizational Traps will prevent your organization from having organizational traps – but it may just help you disarm them.