Facilitator Journal | Issue #0375, Jan 6, 2009
Welcome to 2009! This past year, for me, was the quickest on record. While my 6-month retreat seemed long at times, the time flew by and when I returned, it all felt like a dream...6 months of missing time!
I'm in the process of moving. Part of that process involves cleaning out old files and ruthlessly getting rid of things I don't need. In doing this, I ran across a short article written by David Ellis, author of Becoming a Master Student, entitled "How to Fool Yourself--Six Common Mistakes in Logic. These points seem relevant to our interest in clear, critical thinking as facilitators, so I explore them in this week's article, Getting to the Truth. Let me know if you can think of other ways we fool ourselves that we might add to this list.
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Getting to the Truth
Be familiar with the tactics people use to cloud an issue.
Group Dynamics Skill
Most people we work with are well intentioned. Still, there are a variety of tactics people can and do use to divert attention from an issue or otherwise manipulate our perspective. In our efforts to help groups develop healthy courses of action based on clear and accurate information, it is good for us to become aware of some of these tactics.
The following section lists and describes these tactics, along with suggestions on how to deal with them.
Jumping to Conclusions. In our rush to get a meeting over with and to get on with the job, it can be tempting to jump to conclusions based on hasty generalizations. For example, consider a company with a marked increase in product returns. They could easily jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the product and go about trying to find the bug. But in fact, it may be that the advertising is misrepresenting the product, creating a mismatch between client desires and results produced. Help your groups look at all the possible inputs to a problem to remedy this potential error in judgment.
Attack the Person. This is an old strategy that we've all seen before, especially in the political arena. If we don't like what someone is saying, it's easy to simply attack the source rather than do the work necessary to take an in-depth look at their ideas. Perhaps in the above example, John suggests that the problem with our return rate may with our advertising. When Bill responds with, "Right, and what do you know about advertising, you're an engineer!"
he is diverting attention from John's idea to John's credibility. In this case, ask Bill to attack the idea and not the person.
Appeal to an Authority. We've all seen the infomercials with famous stars or noted experts citing the miracles they've attained with the latest gadget, book, or program. In this case, we're asked to fully trust a product because of its association with a celebrity or an authority. No one is infallible, not even James Earl Jones! And even if one is an expert on the subject at hand, we can't be certain that they know everything there is to know about the current issue on the table. Again, taking our example further, suppose Bill says, "Our product has got to have a flaw it in and Bob (the company president) told me this morning that he suspects that's the problem as well." Acknowledge that the authority, Bob in this case, could be right, but that it's in everyone's best interest to explore all the possibilities to save time and money down the road.
Point to a False Cause. It's easy to assume simple causes for complex problems.
For example, consider an organization faced with constant change, as most are these days. People are feeling out of step with the changes and with each other. Consequently, they cite the cause as a lack of communication from management. In actuality, there are likely many causes for people feeling misaligned. Communication quantity and quality may only be contributing factors. Help your group clarify the conditions they'd like to create, work backward to identify all the factors that would contribute to this outcome, then explore how they can be adjusted to make this happen.
Think in "All or Nothing" Terms. Most of us have made sweeping generalizations at one time or another. For example, You can never trust a lawyer...Teenagers are terrible drivers...More money would solve all of our problems...etc. This kind of thinking does not address the reality of each unique situation. Invite your group to refrain from sweeping judgments and instead, to look at the particular people and specifics of the situation on the table.
Base Arguments on Emotion. Emotion is often used for manipulative purposes. I once watched a woman hijack a meeting by shedding tears of sorrow based on her inference that a suggestion for a change to a program somehow discounted her years of work. We all fell for it, and the potentially progressive proposal fell flat. Acknowledge the feelings of others but don't let them cloud the true content, intent, and direction of your group.
Have you seen other tactics of faulty thinking at work? If so, send them to us and we'll include them in this list.
Have you ever used any of these tactics? If so, forgive yourself and move on. When have you seen others use these tactics and how did you deal with it? I'd
love to hear about your experiences. Please send us your stories, questions and comments.
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