Alec Grimsley's Blog

June 24, 2010

Does your mindset pass the transparency test in a difficult conversation?

Will your mindset pass the transparency test in a difficult conversation?

Our true mental programming comes to the fore when challenged by a difficult conversation. When you squeeze an orange, what comes out?… orange juice. When you are pressured in a challenging conversation or feel that need to achieve a very specific outcome, what mindset leaks out of you? While many people talk a good game around being collaborative and win/win approaches (which reflect an aspect of what I call third- generation thinking), their behaviour (and mine at times) under stress suggests that they’re often much more aligned to first or second generation thinking.

It’s my belief that people operate from three distinct levels of thinking:

  • First generation – fight or flight.
  • Second generation – manipulation and control.
  • Third generation – Transparency and mutual understanding.

First-generation thinking: Fight or flight

You might recognise yourself in this mode if you have ever “Brain Farted” or alternatively have suffered from “Bunny in the headlights” syndrome. Brain farting is when we become angry and irrational and we simply spew out whatever’s on our minds usually with a combination colourful language, put downs, moralistic judgements blame etc. Alternatively if you have ever experienced A bunny moment then it’s likely you’ve experienced such high levels of anxiety in the conversation (usually because of how the other person is behaving) that you’re either to afraid to speak or even worse your mental functioning packs up completely to the point where you couldn’t even spell the word “The” let alone string together a coherent response. Be aware that sometimes your passive behaviour might be masking a deeper seated aggressive side. This mode called “passive aggressive” is where you find yourself outwardly agreeing or capitulating with the other person, yet inside your seething or defiant with an inner dialogue that is telling you that you  have no intention of following through on what your externally agreeing to.

Second Generation: Unilateral control disguised as genuine win-win dialogue

So this is where you’re in a conversation where getting your outcome or even worse not getting the outcome you need has high stakes attached. We realise however that the other person isn’t going to simply agree to our way of thinking so we need to get them, or hope that they will get on board with our needs or solutions. This is when we start to deploy our armoury of tactics and techniques to win them round or get them to see the light! People will use everything from guilt throwing “I know you won’t let me down on this one” to a plethora of interpersonal rapport building skills like “Matching and Mirroring” the other person’s body language until they artificially drop into rapport and become more open to your suggestions. Unfortunately these strategies do not pass what Harvard professor Argyris coined the “Transparency test” where we cannot be honest about the strategy we are using to achieve our goals. For example if you where using those matching and mirroring skills to build rapport and you where hones and upfront about this with the other person you’re having the difficult conversation with you might go “Hi John, there something really important I need to discuss with you and I really need you to buy into my way of thinking here, so what I’m planning to do is to match and mirror your body language, create some unconscious rapport which will make you more open to my ideas and suggestions. Now if being transparent in that way that sounds ridiculous to you, then you absolutely right! You couldn’t be transparent because the other person would think that you’re either a weirdo or more likely they would ask you to stop using sneaky subconscious techniques and just be honest with open two way dialogue. Come on would you like it if you realised the other person was using subconscious rapport techniques to manipulate you? Unfortunately many times these techniques either create the very resistance your try to avoid or over time the other person realise they have been manipulated and trust, respect and cooperation deteriorate as a consequence.

This for me is the most dominant mindset that prevails in organisations and the corporate world today. Many of the leadership trainings teach these techniques which are fundamentally rooted in this second generation mindset. Even leadership teams unconsciously come from this mindset to create the illusion of employee engagement by asking for employee input before key decisions are made when in reality those decisions were made weeks ago and are not going to be changed. I have no problem with senior leaders making autocratic decisions, sometimes unilateral decision making is the best way to go, but let’s be transparent with the workforce, their not stupid and over time employees become jaded and sceptical of this second generation communication.

In my next blog I will talk about the third generation mindset which places transparency and relationship at the heart of what is trying to be achieved…

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