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What We're Reading
Discussing the Undiscussables: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace. By William R. Noonan. Jossey-Bass, 2007.(click for purchase information)
This is a book that would make a great companion to The Thin Book of Naming Elephants. The forward is by Chris Argyris, who coined the word undiscussables and whose work I rely on heavily. The material is a workshop the author created; converted into a book and it's very good. He translates the somewhat academic writing of Argyris into practical examples and tools. He covers a lot of Argyris theory in this book, which is helpful because it's all in one place. There also is a DVD included that has video clips of conversations that reflect the examples in the book. The video would be useful in a training or coaching situation because it shows the contrasting examples of reality vs. how to do it better.
Noonan begins with an explanation of 3 of Argyris' basic tools, the Left Hand Column Exercise, The Ladder of Inference and Advocacy and Inquiry. The explanations are clear and include cautions on the consequences of using them without fully understanding them. His examples throughout the book are simple, content-rich and realistic. For example this is what he says about advocacy and inquiry:
"Advocacy is expressing a view or making a statement about your position. Inquiry is exploring the views of others through questions Advocacy and inquiry are the basic units of conversation. How you state your view and inquire into others' perspectives determines the quality of your conversation." (pg. 29)
There are entire books dedicated to this concept that never boil it down to this elegant description. You can increase the quality of your own conversation if you consider your conversation patterns through the frame of this description. How much do you explore the views of others vs. express your own views? What kind of ratio of advocacy vs. inquiry happens in most of your conversations or meetings? As I read the book, I thought about how inviting he made the processes seem. There is an art to that and that's maybe the best way to describe this book: a work of art.
One chapter is on "Conditions of Threat and Embarrassment." This is an example of something that seems obvious after he has articulated it. Yet as someone who has worked with this topic a great deal, that means it's a masterful treatment. Being embarrassed or defensive is one of the reasons people don't 'speak up' or 'push back' when something seems off. He uses example cases in this chapter called, "the temperature is rising", "getting grilled", "questioning my ability", "reputation on the line", and "wrongly accused." That really sums up why people don't speak up or get frustrated at work or go into 'defensive routines.'
Noonan also honors Argyris throughout the book as well as the partners of Action Design, Diana Smith, Bob Putman, Phil McArthur and Peter Senge. All of these people have made significant contributions to the field and I appreciate that the author recognizes them. As I said a few months ago, we often see the same material being 'refreshed' by others. Unfortunately all too often we don't see the attribution to the original thinkers and practitioners.
I know it's the dog days of summer but this is worth adding to your library and actually reading. I'll bet you find some examples of 'how to say it' that you can use effectively with others.
Speaking of the end of summer, as you read this I will be traveling to Maine, to help my son move into Colby College. The drama of getting into college is replaced by the beginning of a great adventure.
It's my transition too as I begin to see time in a different way now that one of my big responsibilities fades a bit. I have taken that 'extra' time and began to balance my word/thought intensive work into something more tangible. The results are on a new page within Thin Book Publishing's website called StonesSpeak.net.
I am creating jewelry with stones that speak to me. These are all one-of-a kind pieces and meant to bring the wearer good feelings. If you listen to stones, which after all come from the earth, look at the offerings and see if anything speaks to you. They are all created of very high quality materials purchased mostly in Central Oregon although they come from all over the world. Many of you know that we often do not 'see' the results of our work with organizations so its nice to have work that you can actually see, feel, touch and wear (!).
I doubt this will ever turn into a full-time job for me but it is an enjoyable form of work that I hope will continue to 'refresh' me to do even more interesting work with you and your clients. We'll offer the StonesSpeak products at 10% off, through September, as a way to introduce them.