MyNotes - Good Communication that Blocks Learning

Note: Chris Argyris was one of the first authors that opened my eyes to my work in organizations...simply, espoused theory vs theory in action blew my mind. What a thrill to re-discover it lurking in enclosed between the pages of an old magazine in a file folder.
An intriguing title, Good Communication that Blocks Learning by Chris Argyris, had me wondering what the article could be about. As I was working my way through my file cabinet—where I save important print documents to be scanned to PDF and archived—I stumbled across this old document. For some reason, it had failed to find its way into the “scan to PDF” folder, and, as such, I decided to read it.

The article appeared in the Harvard Business Review OnPoint (October 3, 2009). Here are some of my take-aways from the article:
  1. The key to better performance is encouraging employees who take personal responsibility for their own behavior and their company's success. This means that when workers see a problem, they know it's their job to tackle it...and figuring out how they might be contributing to the problem.
  2. Employee surveys and focus groups discourage employees from learning to understand their own behavior. What does encourage employees is genuine employee empowerment.
  3. Some ways to encourage employee responsibility:
    1. Avoid “fixing concerns.” Instead, ask questions like the following:
      1. How long have you known about this problem?
      2. What have you done to address it?
      3. What prevents you from questioning and correcting problems?
      4. How would you redesign our company to encourage more initiative?
    2. Don't make promises you can't shouldn't keep.
      1. Point out unreasonable employee requests.
      2. Highlight the challenges of your markets
      3. Suport employee's creative responses to those demands.
    3. Respect your employees.
      1. Demand that all employees take personal responsibility for the organization's success by focusing on theirinsights, not your solutions.
  4. The key to better performance is better communication.
  5. Getting employees to reflect on their work and behavior is critical.
  6. The culture of the company “made it unacceptable to get others into trouble for the sake of correcting problems. In every explanation, the responsibility for fixing the nine problem areas belong to someone else.”
  7. Learning occurs in two forms: single-loop and double-loop.
    1. Single-loop learning asks a one-dimensional question to elicit a one-dimensional answer.
    2. Double-loop learning asks what the media call follow-ups; it asks questions not only about objective facts but also the reasons and motives behind those facts.
      1. It gets at two closely related mechanism at work—one social, one psychological.
  8. In the name of positive thinking, managers often censor what everyone needs to say and hear. . .they deprive employees and themselves of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own behavior by learning to understand it.
  9. Double-loop learning depends on questioning one's own assumptions and behavior, it is actually antilearning.
  10. Defensive reasoning serves no purpose except self-protection, though the people who use it rarely acknowledge that they are protecting themselves. It is the group, the department, the organization that they are protecting in the name of being positive.
  11. In positive thinking, managers' actual techniques involve gathering data selectively, postulating only causes that do not threaten themselves, testing explanations in ways that are sloppy and self-serving. This is defensive reasoning.
  12. Rigorous reasoning – identifying problems, gathering objective data, postulating causes, testing explanations, and deriving corrective action.
  13. Each of us has an espoused theory of action based on principles and precepts that fit our intellectual backgrounds and commitments.
  14. theory-in-use is one we resort to in moments of stress.
  15. We are seldom aware of the contradiction between espoused theory of action and theory-in-use.
  16. Theories-in-use have 4 governing values that allow us to design our behavior in order to...
    1. Remain in unilateral control
    2. Maximize winning and minimize losing
    3. Suppress negative feelings
    4. Be as rational as possible.
  17. These values allow us to avoid vulnerability, risk, embarrassment, and the appearance of incompetence...it is a recipe for antilearning.
  18. If any reflection does occur, it is in the service of winning and controlling, not of opening ourselves to learning.
  19. Organizational Defensive Routines consist of all the policies, practices, and actions that prevent human beings from having to experience embarrassment or threat and, at the same time, prevent them from examining the nature and causes of that embarrassment or threat.
  20. Defensive reasoning occurs when individuals make their premises and inferences tacit, then draw conclusions that cannot be tested except by the tents of this tacit logic.
  21. How does management contribute to censorship and defensive routines?
    1. They create a bias against personal learning and commitment in the way they parcel out roles and responsibilities in every survey, dialogue, and conversation.
    2. They open a door to defensive reasoning—and close one on individual self-awareness—in the way they continuously emphasize extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic motivation.
  22. Managers tend to deal with uncomfortable issues in a variety of ways:
    1. Hide your fears about the other person's likely resistance to change. Cover this fear with persistent positiveness. Pretend the two of you agree, especially when you know you don't.
    2. Deal with resistant responses by stressing the problem rather than the resistance. Be positive. Keep this strategy a secret.
    3. If this approach doesn't work, make it clear that you won't take no for an answer...after all, you're the boss.
  23. For companies to change, employees must take an active role not only in describing the faults of others but also in drawing out the truth about their own behavior and motivation...employees dig deeper and harder into the truth when the task of scrutinizing the organization includes taking a good look at their own roles, responsibilities, and potential contributions to corrective action.




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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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