The Slippery Slope Myth

No doubt you’ve seen this play out before.  Someone asks for a concession at work, for example, an employee with a sick daughter asks if she can work from home for a few days. The boss considers it but rejects the request because “if we allow this once, then before you know it, everyone will be demanding this.” Thus the “slippery slope” myth is perpetuated. 

Glaciers floating on arctic water

Rarely does anything positive come from decisions like this. The employee is unhappy, her co-workers are probably miffed that their boss showed little compassion (and might treat them the same way), and the boss is likely picking up on the dip in morale since word got out about his decision. Decisions based on the slippery slope rationale are classic lose-lose scenarios.

The inherent problem with this misguided approach is the over-use of linear thinking. The boss is worried about setting a precedent, fearful of the presumed consequences, and worried that his authority will appear diminished if he doesn’t uphold the rules.  In his defense, the boss is likely thinking it wouldn’t be fair to give one employee a break that  he’s not prepared (or can’t) give to all his staff. 

But this is a classic fear-based, clinical approach to leadership that misses the point. (It is also wrong simply on logical grounds because it makes the classic mistake of thinking that one single action will lead to dire consequences as a result). In the example given, providing a specific benefit to one employee will trigger a landslide of similar requests that will damage the organization.  

Linear thinking works well when circumstances call for “either/or” binary decisions, e.g. safety measures, emergency situations, etc). The boss in this scenario thinks he has only two choices: approve or reject the employee’s request.  Comply or don’t comply with the rules. 

This is an example of applying linear thinking when a shift to circular thinking offers better results. In this situation where employees’ sense of wellbeing, freedom of choice and deep engagement are at play, circular thinking can yield more meaningful, helpful decisions.

Applying the “yes, and” principle of the circular world (rather than the “either/or approach of the linear world) can generate goodwill throughout the organization. People will understand that they work in a flexible environment, a caring workplace, a place where being human matters. In this instance, “yes” means we can continue to work well and meet our objectives, “and”, we can do that better by providing staff with flexibility, customization and agency according to their unique needs. Think about it, what is more likely to make an employee do their job well: tell them that rules are impossible to review and adjust, or, provide them with a response that is considerate of their very human needs? 

If this and similar scenarios were viewed through the lens of circular thinking, everything changes for the better. For example, the power dynamic in the circular world is generative. Rather than exerting his will even against resistance (the classic linear use of power and the zero sum game in action), the boss would see his power is rooted in helping himself and others reach their full potential. The employee feels valued and trusted as she works from home, the other staff know that their boss can be compassionate and discerning, and everyone can be empowered by this display of leadership acumen.

Now, you might be doubting this approach, assuming your linear thinking cap is firmly in place. What if the employee doesn’t deliver? What if more employees beat a path to the boss’ door expecting the same generosity? What if not having that employee around hurts team morale or effectiveness? These are serious, legitimate questions. The answer in each case is the same. The boss has to be ready to bring the team together in a spirit of transparency, mutual trust and candor and reframe the questions: What do we do well as a team? How can meet our collective goals and provide flexibility as needed? How can we learn from this experience to become an even more collaborative, trusting and empowered team?

Admittedly, this approach can be challenging at first, and there may be stumbles along the way as circular thinking takes root. But if all these experiences are seen as integral parts of growing together, they complement the organization, not diminish it.

The slippery slope approach is based on rules, not relationships, on power controlled, rather than shared, and on precedent trumping growth and creativity. But sometimes the principle of fairness, inherent to the slippery slope rational, is over-rated. Companies and organizations have learned that they can flourish, retain committed, gifted staff and attract good people when trust, empowerment and collaboration matter more than inflexible rules, controlling bosses and exaggerated fear of unintended consequences. In the linear world, risks are avoided and growth stunted, but in the circular world, risk is embraced and growth facilitated. 

Written by Laurie Anderson

The Movie Arrival is All About 2WK

Louise and Ian, a linguist and a scientist, are rushed by helicopter to the site of an alien arrival. Somehow they have to decode the alien communication system, or as Louise would say, have a conversation with them. The US Army, and indeed the world, wants to know ‘What is your purpose on Earth?’

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Louise wants to learn their language because it is the heart of how they think. The Army thinks that will take too long.

The whole movie is this kind of juxtaposition of linear and circular thinking. Louise is subjective. She constantly learns through her feelings. She experiences them fully, allows them to permeate her consciousness, and then awakens to the meaning they hold for her.

 

Ian is all about breaking things down into their base parts to find a logical reason for why they have assembled in the way that they have. He wants to know the operating principle that makes things predictable. And sometimes he finds it.

 

The armies of the world are all about linear power. They have ways to assert their will even against the will of others. The challenge is to determine where the line is. When is the danger significant enough for them to use major force?

Once an aggressive move is taken, they are geared up to use the advantage of time and take the first strike before there is retaliation. It is unimaginable that there is a love based world where no matter what your behaviour you are worthy of love. Love is offered not because you work hard or you’re family or even because you exist. Love is offered because it is the nature of the person offering.

The news reporters are looking for the elements of danger so they can report them. They are bound by a duty to report the facts and are held accountable by their peers. This keeps a degree of control over the development of fear. The problem is they report the fact in a fear inducing way and leave the viewer to fill in the emotional parts. The biggest problem with the army and the news and most of the men in the movie is that they have a one-world view. It’s actually ironic because they have evidence of another world right in front of them. It exists in the form of the aliens and in the radically different way that Louise sees the situation. They are always looking for evidence of danger. They never awaken to the possibility of love.

But the really scary part is the social media that spins an emotional frenzy of fear and leads to anarchy in the streets.

I don’t want to give any spoilers for this movie so I will say something that will only make sense after you have seen the movie. Consensus decision-making is not the power of a veto. Consensus decision-making is when a group of people decide they will leave no one behind. They will stay in the circular world of connection no matter what the disagreements between people. There is a build -n trust of group wisdom inherent to this standpoint. A trust in the process over productivity: together we will know what is the right thing to do. The answer exists somewhere in the overlap between our independent perspectives.

Finally, I think there is a brave assertion in this movie that men and women view the world differently. One of the best lines in the movie is at the end. I was reminded of the Cherokee Proverb that says ‘The job of a woman is to lead men to their souls. The job of men is to make women safe to walk the Earth.’

Oh, and before I go, I would give this movie two big thumbs up! It is definitely worth watching. Make sure you have time to discuss it afterwards. It is very thought provoking.

What Do You Get From Complaining and Gossip?

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Will Bowen’s 21-Day complaint free challenge has been getting a lot of media attention lately. It made me wonder why people are finding this challenge so challenging. We, as a society, must be getting something out of complaining or it would be much easier to just stop. How does complaining benefit us?

Both complaining and gossip are two sides of the same coin. Complaining is a means of pushing back against something in our outside world. It is a use of our linear power to assert our will, even agains the will of others. The power comes from getting people to turn against something and forcing change through greater numbers. But can be a lazy form of action, pointing out flaws and hoping others will pick up the cause and actually make the change.

Gossip is a shadow behaviour in the circular world. It often is initiated by a person who has a feeling of disconnection, and s/he generates more disconnection by spreading disconnecting feelings to others. Saying things about other people’s nature or behaviour that is positive is not called gossip. It’s called support.

When complaints and gossip happen at work, they break bonds between co-workers.  As Will Bowen explains, complaint filled workplaces can become toxic, unproductive, miserable places to be.

Harvard Business Review’s article on Proof that Positive Work Cultures are More Productive, sets out a 4-step model to create a culture where relationships are created and maintained without the need to resort to these negative approaches.

We all know neither a culture nor habits are changed over night. Research shows it takes 21 days to break a habit. (Perfect timing for a challenge.) But when we start relating to each other from a positive approach, we will find we are not only more productive, but we also will discover the authentic relationships we’ve been looking for.

Discussion:

What purposes do complaining and gossip serve in your workplace?

What are some positive approaches to belonging and connecting to colleagues you have found successful?

Written By:

Michelle Eades

Things Change. So Can Your Approach

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Jim Hemerling’s Ted Talk illustrates just how inevitable change is in all aspects of our lives. Its our approach to change that makes all the difference. Personal transformation is seen as an exciting adventure. It motivates people to become better; inspires them to see change as a positive goal.

When organisational change is thrust upon us, we often fear the consequences. Its always easier to accept change when we make the decision to change. But how can organisations continue to run a business and make tough decisions, which often require changes, while creating a culture where change is embraced?

My thought is to change the approach first. Jim Hemerling suggests leaders approach organisational change by putting people first. His five imperatives for putting people first are: inspire through purpose; go all in; give them the tools to succeed;create a culture of continued learning; and have a clear, accountable vision.

Creating a circular thinking work place won’t happen over night. Habits are hard to break. However, when people feel included, wanted, and valued you will be surprised on how fast fear is replaced with trust.

Written by:

Michelle Eades