Apparently, 85% of people in the workplace have ideas and knowledge they are afraid to voice to their bosses or colleagues. This is why Microsoft ‘missed’ the internet back in the 90s and why Google somehow managed to miss the social networking hype. I think it’s safe to say at a great majority of Google’s employees have Facebook accounts themselves, yet no one seemed to have raised the opportunities for Google in this respect until Facebook had already taken over the world. The wisdom within organisations is there, it just doesn’t come out. In the States, the biggest reason employees remain silent is because they fear their bosses or colleagues and the reactions they might have. In the UK, employees tend to feel that even if they did say something, no one would do something about it thus it would be useless. You can see how fear of conflict leads to massive organisational silence.
I obviously did not come up with this myself, this was all part of last Tuesday’s event: CEDR’s ‘Normalising conflict: Effective Conflict Management Skills’ course with guest speaker Margaret Heffernan (author of: Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril). Margaret spoke about the concept of ‘willful blindness’ and how people would rather be wrong about something than be the only one giving the right answer. A study was done where 8 people were asked a question yet 7 of them had been told beforehand to give the wrong answer. The 8th person would almost always give the answer the previous 7 had given, even though he knew that was the wrong answer. A further study was done where they put people in MRI machines and looked at their brains while they asked them a question. If the person in the MRI machine is aware of the answer the people before him have given, the part of the brain that is supposed to think about the question does not even light up, he just answers what the others answered.
This particular course focused on giving people the tools they need to stand up and speak up, whether it is a conflict you are already in or simply a difficult conversation you need to have you’re your boss. CEDR’s Tracey Fox and Ranse Howell led the course and were able to, quite effectively, process a lot of theoretical information into practical bits and pieces that people can use on a daily basis.
At the beginning of the day we, the 15 participants, were blindfolded while we were standing in a circle. A string was put on the floor in the middle and we were told to make a square of the string while blindfolded. We were videotaped as we attempted to complete this assignment. At the end of the day they showed us video and it was pretty interesting to see the different collaboration/assimilation/avoidance/competitive and compromising frameworks in which each of us was operating and how we were awkwardly trying to work together.
Needless to say, obviously, our square was a mathematically sound one.