Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 45: It's comfortable, but is it useful?

March 23, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 45: It's comfortable, but is it useful?
Chapters
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 45: It's comfortable, but is it useful?
Mar 23, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"Where are our patterns and our habits contributing to the result we don't want?"

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"Where are our patterns and our habits contributing to the result we don't want?"

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Unknown:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "It's comfortable, but is it useful?"

Paul:

In some ways, I think this question is really around, "Is it still useful?" So one of the things that we know about the way that people work you work this way, I work this way, all of us work this way is that we fall into patterns of doing things in particular ways. Sometimes we call these "best practices." Sometimes we just, we don't even think about them, but they're just ways that we work. One of the interesting things about collaboration is that you start to discover that the things that you do that are familiar, that are habitual, and that are comfortable are often not the way that other people do them. But there are ways that that you do them, and sometimes they are ways that groups do them, and they've developed over a period of time. And so oftentimes, we can just continue to do them, without thinking a lot about what the impact of them actually is. We might have developed them in a situation where they were useful, but we might be applying them in a situation where they aren't anymore. And because they're so familiar and comfortable, we often don't think about that.

Karen:

And I think that's particularly true if they're around things that we were taught, that were part of our schooling in some way, or were part of the culture we grew up in various ways. And I think an interesting example to kind of chew through that offer here is this idea of, "Well, if you want to participate in a meeting, you need to come prepared." Often the word responsible shows up with this, so really heavily judgment-laden. And often prepared means having read through lots and lots of minutes, or handouts, or documents. I mean, that's probably the most common scenario. So there is this desire particularly amongst those who've written or provided those minutes or documents that if if somebody is going to come and participate, that they have, before they showed up at the meeting, that they have gotten prepared, that they've been responsible that they have read these materials that seem relevant. And that seems very reasonable, especially if you grew up in a culture that said, good little boys and girls do their homework, right? This really aligns with that basic value. And it's the sort of thing that if someone says it out loud, it's really hard to be the person who says, "But maybe that's not a good use of my time," or maybe "I don't want to read all that stuff." Because it's so laced with this historic generation-to-generation even passed on sense of what is responsible, what is good, what is valued, what what makes you a valuable employee, or a valuable team member, that kind of thing.

Paul:

It's really interesting how the sort of practical gets interlaced with the the cultural and the judgmental, and the story we tell ourselves about what these things mean. So the story I tell myself about a person who doesn't read the minutes before coming to the meeting is that they're not responsible. I have a similar thing about timeliness and meetings, right, showing up on time. For a long time, I was just like, well, if you don't show up on time, you're disrespecting me. I'm like, well, that's an interesting story I'm telling myself. But so what's interesting is that it is comfortable for us to sort of lay these things out, and then sort of be able to with often, like not intending to do so to pass judgment on people who don't follow our standard, our pattern. I think there is a layer to which like those agreements may have been useful, those patterns may have been useful at certain points. But we're no longer looking at what is the impact that they're having. Now, we're only saying this is what these are, and this is what we think of people who don't follow them. We're not looking at, "So what would happen if we didn't do that here? What would happen if we invited the people who hadn't done the reading ahead of time to participate? What is the impact of that excluding those people now is having?"

Karen:

Yeah, and I and I think it's worth looking a little further at this particular example, although we could come up with others. But when I think about what the impact of that policy might be, it's pretty broad, actually. One thing that will happen is that people who haven't read the materials for whatever reason, maybe there's a cognitive deficit, that it's harder for them to take in information while reading or more exhausting, maybe they don't have as much time, maybe they're just not a real text based learner, maybe they take in information more readily another way. But it is absolutely the case that what for some people is very, very easy for other people is not. And I think one of the likely impacts is that those people for whom it's not, will simply not participate in the meeting. And their ideas won't be added. And they won't have the experience of being heard and valued. And so there's a loss sort of on both sides of that. I think the desired result, actually, but with a negative impact that's not being seen is that those people would, at whatever cost that they would do the reading that they would show up prepared prepared by the judgment of the people who would like them to do the reading. And then thinking about what resource that absorbs. So I mean, if you're on a working team, where you've got a certain amount, everybody's putting in 40 hours a week, is that hour how you actually wanted them to spend that hour of getting prepared for that meeting? Or was there a more useful way for them to spend their time? Or are they spending an hour digging through and getting grumpy and upset or maybe not upset, but like, just exhausted and worn out and frustrated and, you know, are they coming now into the meeting with a mindset that is far from the one we'd like them to have showing up for the meeting? Because they said, Okay, that's the rule, I'm following the rule, I'm doing my homewor. Is the result of them even doing the homework, turning out to be what you'd like it to be?

Paul:

Right. A lot of this comes back to a theme that we've touched on a number of times, but it's about recognizing that we're on autopilot, around a lot of stuff. Because it's not like that is a rule that was invented for this group. That is, as you point out, this is a cultural thing. They're just these expectations that the people who have the authority in this case to actually make these rules, you know, they have. They carry that with them. They go, "Well, this is reasonable. So therefore..." and they don't think about it. And the problem is that there are a lot of times where when we don't think about stuff, we don't actually get the results that we're hoping for. Or we don't necessarily ask how is this different from other situations. What can be really useful is to have those moments where we kind of step back and go, "Okay, so wait a minute, what are we actually trying to do here?" To get out of our sort of habitual patterns or at least notice our habitual patterns and say, "Are those serving us here? Yes, they're comfortable, but are they useful here and now?" Sometimes this is like the stone in the shoe moment where it's like, the discomfort that we're having around this because I have to imagine that the people involved in this situation, are not happy with the way that this whole situation is going. Even the people who are making the rule saying you have to read stuff ahead of time, like they're probably a little grumbly about what's happening. And so being able to sort of take that moment and get curious about it and going, "So what is it that is contributing to that grumbliness that isn't us just blaming other people about it? What might we do? Where are our patterns and our habits contributing to the result we don't want?

Karen:

Yeah, and I think that's really key. And I think the other theme I just want to try to track here is that, as you said, the people who have the authority to make the rules and I will say that may be actual, you know, this may be the manager who was hired for that role, but it also may just be the people who happen to have influence in a group that is theoretically a consensus-based, non-hierarchical kind of thing. But there are always power dynamics in play. Anytime you've got rules, whether you call them agreements or guidelines, or whatever word you put on them. If you've got that sort of enforcement expectations, this is what you're supposed to do in this space kind of frame, there are power dynamics there. And, and it's pretty reliable that there is a correlation between those in the room who are the most comfortable, and those who have the most power. So if you are sitting in a position of saying, "Well, this is very comfortable for me. It's very clear, it's very reasonable, it's very appropriate," and somebody else isn't doing it somebody else either isn't coming prepared or is saying they don't want to come prepared, whether they're actively saying it or they're just sort of passively not abiding by the thing that you're asking for I'd begin to get really curious about the power dynamics there, because odds are that some of my resistance is that if we did it the other way, I would have less influence or less power in the situation. And I don't like to have less power, as much as I work in this every day, and I know how much better relationships are when I'm not in a more powerful position, that doesn't mean it's comfortable. It hasn't gotten comfortable for me yet. And so all I can do is just start to get really conscious and pay attention. But one of the things to look at is if we keep this standard that's comfortable, what happens to power? If we let go of it, how are people empowered differently? And how does that work or not work for us?

Paul:

Yeah, so that's actually a really critical, different answer to the question. If it's comfortable, it's probably useful to me. But is it actually useful to everybody? And I think that it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking, well, because it is comfortable for me. Therefore, it must be useful for everyone.

Karen:

So just to sort of summarize where we've gone here, I think we started with the idea that we have habits, we have ways of doing things that came from our culture, whether the big broad culture or that specific culture of the environment where we're working. And we tend to just sort of keep doing those things without pausing to look deeply at them and ask ourselves, "Is it useful? Is it doing the thing we want it to do? Is it aligned with our goals?" And then when we pause to ask that question, often, we come up with realizing that the impact is actually pretty different at least for some other people than the impact that we would wish for. And that that me being comfortable with it probably is associated with some power that I get from it. That's the thing to be curious about. And that if I can get curious about, "Okay, I'm comfortable, but is everyone else comfortable? I'm getting the power or influence that I need. Are others getting that too? What cost is that coming at? What are the other impacts of this policy or guideline or concept that we're working with?" And if we can get curious about all of that we can really apply it in a way that makes sense.

Paul:

Yeah. that's gonna do it for us for today. Until next time, I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig. And this has been Employing Differences.