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Bennett Coaching & Consulting

A Framework for
Personal Effectiveness
A summary of key concepts and learning
from my participation in, then the coaching
of, the Leading Learning Communities
programs conducted by Fred Kofman
in Boulder CO throughout 1996-2000
.

56 Pages

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LLC Article Summaries


In my way of thinking the LLC (Leading Learning Communities) material
represents a rather holistic framework for personal development; particularly that
development associated with improved self-knowledge and effectiveness in
performance and relationships.

The articles in this package are personal summaries I have made from Fred
Kofman’s articles for the Leading Learning Community programs he conducted in
Boulder CO in the late 90’s. They were produced for myself, to help me learn.
Others have found them useful. And I am very willing to share them with the
following understanding.

I do not recommend reading them in place of Fred’s more extensive material.


That material should be digested first. These are based on this material but I
have included my own examples and described my own understanding of the
concepts. Others would have summarized differently without a doubt.

These summaries are not adequate to convey a good understanding of the concepts
by themselves. An assumption is that people using them have had personal
exposure to them as part of the LLC or LAL programs.

The last two articles are my original work on the subjects of “substitute feelings”
and on discounting. I have included them because, for me, they add to the overall
body of material about understanding my self and my interactions with others.

Chuck Bennett

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Article Index:

Kofman Articles Page #


What Is Learning 3

Learning To Learn 5

Observations and Assessments 8

Advocacy and Inquiry 12

Mental Models 16

Ladder of Inference 23

Public and Private Conversations (Left Hand Column) 26

Commitment Conversations 30

Recommitment Conversations 33

Learning Values 39

Multi-Step Communication Model 47

Bennett Articles
Reactions-Rackets-Rubber Bands 52

Discounting 55

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What Is Learning

The Usual Definition of Learning ....


To learn is to acquire information so I may gain an accurate description of a topic or a
situation. So I can be said to have knowledge.

In this conception of learning, one presumes that there is some external truth out there, and that learning
is a matter of discovering it. In this model, the learner is like an empty jar waiting to be filled with
external information imparted from a book, a teacher, or a discovery. When the knowledge is
accumulated, when the student has learned it, it is said the person has knowledge.

This knowledge is then fashioned into a theory.. an abstract representation of reality that is carried about
in the head as a model.. a mental model. This model describes what things are and how they relate to
each other. These models are used to calculate the consequences and probabilities of our actions and we
make choices based upon these calculations. We make plans and decisions. This is a decision-making
approach to knowledge that is self-sealing. If the objective is missed, the assumption is that the theory
was wrong or the mental model was operated incorrectly. The mental models themselves are seldom
questioned!

There is a big difference between knowing and doing!

I am working at learning Spanish. I have been listening to tapes for months. I can give you the Spanish
equivalent for 100 words. So in the traditional model, I KNOW a lot more Spanish than I did a year ago.
However, I am unable to make myself understood to a Spanish speaking person. I can’t understand a
Spanish language radio station. What good is knowing Spanish words if I don’t know how to use them
effectively? So, a useful way to think about learning and knowing is the ability to use the learning and
knowing to underpin action taking that produces desired results.

LLC Definition of Learning...

To learn is to increase my capacity to accomplish the results that I desire. To know is to be


able to act effectively in a given domain.

The difference has implications for how people and companies expand their capacities to reach the goals
they set out to accomplish. This different approach to learning can help individuals and organizations
generate rather than constrain possibilities for effective action. It is believed by Peter Drucker and others
that:
“learning is the foundation of our economy of the future... “The acquisition and distribution of
knowledge may supplant the acquisition and distribution of property and income as the central
issue in the knowledge society. The definition of an “educated person” will change to be
somebody who has learned how to learn, who continues learning throughout her/his lifetime.”

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What’s Wrong With The Old Approach?

 Our institutions tend to concentrate on developing strong theorists with few application skills.
Students are supposed to translate the theory into practice but practical competence does not result.
 They tend to focus on WHAT to learn, rather than learning HOW to learn.
 Creativity and invention are not encouraged. The teacher operates from a “Knower” position and the
student’s brain is like a piggy bank, being filled with information. The quantity of knowledge is
valued, rather than the quality of it or the meaningfulness of it to the student’s life.
 In this model, a minority of people become “thinkers” who parcel out learning to the rest of us
“doers”. New models of teamwork make this approach obsolete and counterproductive.

Our “new” definition of learning suggests that what we call “reality” is conditional and depends upon the
context. It suggests that it is not practical to base our actions on the presumption of some external “truth”
out there that we can know independent of the observers that we are. I tend to see, what I expect to see. I
interpret what I see, based upon my own past experiences and mental models. You, being different than I,
will tend to see and interpret the same event differently. We are both right. And yet, we both may have
different views. In this sense, there isn’t one truth about the event.

A Pragmatic Model of Learning

Again, the LLC definition of learning and knowledge are not concerned with an accurate representation of
an external world, but with effective action. The concept is that learning is an evaluation by a speaker
about the capacity of an individual to achieve desired results that were beyond her/his reach at some
previous time. (That they are judged to be able to accomplish something now, that previously they were
unable to accomplish)

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Learning To Learn

The Price of Not Knowing:

As adults in this society, we are expected TO KNOW. To know a lot. To say “I don’t know” has
ramifications. We are praised for KNOWING. We were hired for what we do know. Not knowing,
can lead to low grades, reduced opportunities, embarrassment, criticism, and low self-esteem.

So in our society it is much better to be a “knower” than a “not-knower”. As a “knower” I have stature,
influence, and improved self-esteem. No matter that my identity may depend on being a knower; or that
being “right” or even “righteous” may have little to do with how effective I am. Being a knower, beats
not knowing any day.

Because of the above two paragraphs, we often get stuck in LOOKING GOOD. Looking and acting as if
we KNOW, regardless of our actual level of competence. The KNOWER personality is one built around
the fear of not looking good.

But.... the process of LEARNING must start with ignorance and incompetence. How can I learn to play
the piano, or learn Spanish, without first not knowing about these subjects? Thus, the paradox of
learning:

To learn, one must start by not knowing; but to not know may be a threat to my self-esteem or even be
unacceptable in my organization. How, then, can we create learning organizations? How can I cultivate
being a “learner”, where my identity and self-esteem originate in my capacity to learn, which starts with
my capacity to say “I don’t know”?

We must establish a culture where it is safe to NOT KNOW.. Where “I don’t know” is understood to be
both an essential and honorable step in the process of learning.

Learning: - To learn is to increase my capacity to accomplish the results that I desire

To find an area where I have opportunities to learn, I must find an area where there is a gap between
what I want to produce - my goal - and what I am now able to produce - my current ability. The gap
and its consequent creative tension is the precondition of any learning process. This gap is the
“I don’t know.”

For learning to take place there must be:


 An awareness of the gap
 A declaration of present incompetence
 A commitment to learning... to close the gap

To learn, I must be aware of what I don’t know; that there is a gap between what I want to accomplish,
and what I am now able to accomplish.

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Awareness and Competence

Some people don’t learn, because they are unwilling to admit an “I don’t know.” They stay unaware of
the gap. To avoid the emotional tension that can come with confronting the gap, some refuse to look at
their current level of competence; or they lower their expectations about their desired outcomes.

The following represents the Path of Learning. Starting in the upper left, and moving counter clockwise
to the upper right.

Unaware Blind Expert

Aware Ignorant Competent

Alien or Beginner Beginner

Incompetent Competent

Blind... an incompetent person that doesn’t even know he is incompetent in a particular task because he is
unaware that the task, or capability even exists. For a child, or a newcomer to a certain setting, we
would consider the person “innocent”. And not even expect them to know about the task. A boss,
who is unaware of how her lack of competence in making clear requests is affecting her people is
blind.. not aware that she is incompetent in making a clear request. She has not learned that she needs
to learn something.
A “blind” person can be destructive to others, inadvertently as a result of their lack of awareness. This
can be frustrating. If someone doesn’t provide feedback, it is not likely to change. Compassion for
the blind person would be appropriate as we are all blind in some areas. A good reminder as to why it
is important to make it easy for others to provide us feedback... especially if we sense unexplained
frustration.

Ignorant... this person knows, they are not competent to perform some task. If I am ignorant, I have
a choice in relation to learning:

1. I can become an “alien”.. I choose to not even try to operate in the area of the task. I decide that I
choose not to learn.. and I also choose to not participate. I know I don’t know how to golf. And, I
choose not to learn, and, I never play golf.

2. I can become a “beginner”.. .this decision crosses me from the left to the right side, where I begin to
learn. Being a beginner is often viewed negatively in our society. In others, it is a place of honor, for
it denotes standing on the threshold of learning. In our model, a beginner means meeting the three
requirements of learning:
 Being aware I don’t know
 Making a declaration of this incompetence
 And making a commitment to learn.

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Asking for help as a beginner.....

When making a commitment to learn, I must usually ask for help. This implies requesting coaching.
This involves finding a teacher or coach. Do this with care. I need to have trust in both her ability and
willingness to be able to convey the new learnings, and to do so while supporting my dignity and self
respect. I must be willing to reveal my true ignorance to embark on a path of learning. I must be willing
to accept the advice and assignments suggested.... (as in the Karate Kid movie)

Enemies of Learning
Resistance to learning comes in many forms: fear of displaying my ignorance, my blindness, a posture of
already “knowing”. Being aware of typical forms is the starting point of dealing with them....

“I already know this”.. Can come form the arrogance of the supposed expert, or from the person who
really does know a good deal, but is not interested in understanding the utility of new information on the
subject.

“I don’t need to know this”.. This person might be blind.. and have no idea as to why this may be
relevant to any of his concerns. The long-time boss, with all of his/her carefully constructed mental
models and established routines of thinking and acting may be especially vulnerable to this.

“I don’t want to know this”... This is close to the one above. He may be too impatient to learn, may
believe the new information may threaten existing values or mental models, or fear that learning will
reveal true ignorance in the area and make him look bad.

“I can’t learn this”... may be suffering from insecurity, or have had little experience learning new things.

“I won’t give you permission to teach me”... by not trusting the teacher as adequate, or by placing
restrictions on what the teacher/coach teaches and how.. another way of denying permission.

“I want to have it clear all the time”... Learning requires stepping into confusion and some people don’t
like confusion. It is important to understand the difference between:
CONFUSION: I don’t understand what is going on and I don’t like it... And
WONDER: I don’t understand what is going on and I am intrigued, perhaps I
can learn from it.

“I want to be progressing all the time”.. This isn’t realistic. Learning requires long periods on plateaus.
(However, learning is still going on while there)

“I want to be entertained”.... this is related to immediate gratification. If it’s not fun, I won’t do it kind of
attitude. There is no substitute for practice and reinforcement even if it is boring at times.

“Just answer my questions”.... Constrains the coach to operate at the level of the learner’s ignorance.

There is no one answer for the above enemies of learning. It is best is to acknowledge them and make
them discussible so they can be confronted and transformed. Being a Knower, vs. a Learner is the
toughest cultural issue to deal with. To create a learning organization, individuals must become learners...
it must be seen as honorable and normal.

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Observations and Assessments

Sound Similar… But Very Different

Consider the following six statements:


“This building is granite” “This is November” “Clinton is President”
“This building is tall” “November is a cold month” “Clinton is intelligent”

These appear similar in that they are all statements about things. Each suggests some properties (granite,
coldness, height, etc.) to these things. They appear to be describing how the building is, how this
month is, and how Pres. Clinton is. But there are significant differences between the first three and
second three sentences, differences that affect how I may respond to them and evaluate their
truthfulness or validity.

The first three, are observations. The second three are assessments. It is likely that you and I could
agree on the first set of three. It is not as certain that we might agree on the second three; particularly
if we have very different backgrounds. It is important to learn to distinguish between observations
and assessments in order to prevent breakdowns and misunderstanding in conversations or
discussions.

Observations

When I say “Jerry is in his office”, I am making an observation; a statement of fact that describes an
aspect of a world that we share at this time. This is a statement that would pass the “bi-ocular” test.
Just go look. And you can see the statement is a fact. You know Jerry, you know his office, and you
can see him sitting there. My observation, is something that you and I would agree to be a fact
because we are basically of the same culture. We have a community of meaning. We share a
common language. Anyone within our general community could also just go look and determine that
what I say is true.

Observations, then, are either true or false. We can test them by evaluating the fit between the words and
the community or “world” we share among us. We share the same reality in this sense. Something
is a fact, because people like you and me agree it is a fact.

But What Is Real?

This is not the total reality, however. It is by nature an incomplete picture of reality. As humans we can
only perceive what our biology will allow. We can’t hear things that dogs or bats hear… yet those
are real. We can’t smell some of the things that an antelope can smell, yet those are real. I can’t
detect the presence of radio waves, yet those are real. So, you and I, perceive reality through a set of
biological filters that limit our perception of it. And what we call facts, among ourselves, exist only
within our framework of meaning… because of the norms we have regarding the discussion and
observation of things. If I were set down in the middle of a city made up of deaf or blind people,
what was real and relevant to me would not be the same for most. We would not have shared
meaning, and the agreement on what was a fact would be a problem in some areas.

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There is another reason I don’t perceive TOTAL reality at any given time. I can only deal with so much
information. I filter out, or discount, many of the things that I COULD be aware of. I have to do this
to get along in the world. Anyone can make hundreds of observations at any moment. Just look and
listen to all of the things around you at this moment that you can observe. Most of them are not
relevant to you. What is currently relevant are the words on this page. So as you read this, you are
experiencing only a portion of the “reality” that is available to you. You attend to some things, and
discount (as if they are not there) other things. You select what is worth observing according to the
situation and your intention.

Selection of Relevance

This “filtering” out of the total picture occurs at a preconscious level. A part of my mind is pre-
programmed to assess automatically what is noteworthy and what is not. This helps me keep track of
what I think is important. If I am lost in the forest and dark is approaching, I may notice a slight
sound (an animal) that in the daytime I would have ignored. This process of selecting what is
relevant has deep roots in my own history, bias, experience and ingrained coping skills. When I try
to communicate with you, we must overcome the barriers created by our different histories of
experience, which in turn result in different observations that each of us consider “relevant.” Unless
we can understand why we are focusing on a different issue, we will fail to communicate effectively.

So an observation (fact) is either true or false; its truthfulness depends upon the standards and norms of
our shared community of meaning. When you and I do not share the same general framework of
meaning, relevance, and context for the statement, we will fail to communicate. This is where
breakdowns happen. We each speak what we “know” to be true, and yet we can’t agree. Without
agreement on facts, we have little ground to proceed.

Disagreements at the level of observation, then are serious matters. It is important to care for them right
away. It is also an opportunity to learn about another’s mental models; their way of experiencing the
world. This mutual learning allows you and I to achieve a deeper level of relatedness.

Assessments

When I say “My grandchild is good looking”, “Today is a bad day”, or “Dr. Harvey is undependable”, I
am making assessments. I am expressing my opinions and declaring my position with respect to
events about me. These assessments are my interpretation, evaluation, judgment, my opinion,
statements that are expressing my personal perspective about my experience.

We all make assessments all the time. Our opinions flood from us with practically every sentence. We
make them when we speak and when we listen. And when you make an assessment in a statement to
me, I likely make an assessment in reaction to yours. There is nothing wrong with making
assessments. They are critical to our survival and future success. We are often hired and paid to
make assessments about people, policies, practices, etc. Some of them we can control… as in what
we choose to speak. Others are less controllable, as in what goes on in our mind.

An assessment does not require that every member of a “community” agree with it, as in the case of an
observation (fact). I can say “It is cold outside”. You can say “No it is not”. We can look at the
thermometer together and agree on the fact that it reads 68 degrees, and still have different
assessments about coldness or warmness.

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My Assessments Define Me

My assessments say as much or more about me, as they say about what is being assessed. They reveal
information about my standards, my mental models, biases, projections, and my cultural background.

Assessments are Valid or Invalid

While observations are true or false based upon commonly accepted notions, assessments are valid (to be
taken seriously) or not, only when some conditions are present:
 It is made by someone with valid authority to make the assessment (referee)
 Within a particular domain, or area of authority and against some standards (football game)
 The power to enforce the assessment (policeman)

Assessments Relate Past-Present-Future

I may make a statement about Dr. Harvey in the present… “Dr. Harvey is unreliable”. They concern the
present reality as you and I discuss possible heart surgeons for your problem. This assessment also
refers to the past. I say he is unreliable because of past experiences I have witnessed of Dr. Harvey
forgetting a sponge inside the chest cavity and data that shows 85% of his patients don’t survive past
seven hours. The assessment also refers to the future. We make assessments because we are always
projecting ourselves into the next moment, the next week, or the next ICP period. Assessments distill
our past experiences and extrapolate them into the future. They give us a focal point while limiting
the endless possibilities we need to consider. So you decide not to use Dr. Harvey because you
predict he will be unreliable in the future.

Of course, the future may not bear out my assessment. My past observations about Dr. Harvey’s
forgetfulness do not at all guarantee it will happen again. Nonetheless, assessments based upon the
past are an important guide to how things will be in the future.

Productive Assessments

Assessments are less solid than observations.. they can be disputed over and over, but they are much more
flexible in that they enable us to care for the future. But, assessments produce many breakdowns in
relationships and in understanding. It is useful to think about an assessment as being productive, vs
destructive in three categories:
- to the task at hand
- to the relationship
- to my self esteem

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To keep assessments productive in a discussion, it is important to be aware of the assessments I am


making and to identify them as such. Most conversations become troublesome when the speakers begin
to argue about assessments as if they were observations. The following structure helps to keep
assessments productive when stated:

1. Own the assessment as such, and as yours. “This is my opinion, but I believe…”
2. Describe your intention, or concern, for even expressing it. Be clear on what you want to have
happen as a result of expressing it. “I would like to offer another point of view….”
3. Describe any facts or observations that underpin it. Ground your assessment. “And the reason I
believe that is based upon..”
4. Describe your reasoning or standards that you are using to draw the assessment from the facts.
“and I think a survival rate of 85% is the minimum one should accept”

Being clear upon, then exposing my thought process regarding assessments allows the other person to
understand my position, to inquire more deeply into my perspective and to offer information that
might complete my thinking. We communicate better.

When assessing people, perhaps more than in any other area, it is vital that I remember that the
assessment is my own creation. Assessments come from people. They are the opinion of those
people. They do not exist as a fact, or as an external truth. They may be well grounded, they may be
reinforced with observations; but they are still someone’s interpretation.

Used unskillfully or improperly, observations and assessments can create unnecessary stress and
suffering. It is common to hurt others or to have been hurt when an assessment is treated as an
observation. Many of us carry the wounds of miscommunicated or inappropriate assessments made
about something that was said or done months or years ago. How I assess myself and others has
enormous implications for my mental and even my physical health.. not to mention productivity.

Every conversational breakdown is a gateway that can be used to attain a deeper level of understanding
between people. Learning to distinguish between observations and assessments, and checking
assessments in a conversation will help make the link of understanding and improve clarity in
communications. Many conversations do not require checking, but when they do break down,
checking assessments and expressing them “productively” will help resolve the misunderstanding.

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Advocacy and Inquiry

It is not uncommon to walk away from many of our business conversations feeling that they were not
very productive. Especially in those cases where the intent is to reach some consensus or there are major
differences of opinion, these conversations can result in breakdowns.. breakdowns in regard to the task at
hand, the relationships involved, and the sense of self esteem among the participants. When this happens
it is often the case that each participant seemed more interested in making her or his point than in
combining their collective expertise into the best possible result. Rather than a constructive exchange,
these conversations often seem more like a scrappy debate or argument… this, despite the initial good
intentions of those involved.

What Doesn’t Work Well

Unproductive Advocacy…. This is the major culprit in situations like those described above. When I
propose my views as though they are facts.. as though they are finished products, without revealing my
reasoning processes I (unintentionally) prevent others from understanding my data, logic, and concerns.
Presenting my views in this way invites a similar, defensive, response from them, and we are off into a
get-nowhere exchange. The interaction tends to turn into a situation where you and I are now more
interested in promoting our positions than we are in learning about other viewpoints. We talk more than
we listen; focusing on being “right” rather than being effective.

Unproductive Inquiry… When questions are asked in these kinds of situations, they are more often than
not only rhetorical or closed-ended. The questions are closer to an interrogation than an exploration.
They are often questions that feel like a “gotch-ya” to the other person. They are experienced as a
challenge or a demand for proof.

Hidden Agendas…. In many conversations, you and I do have a common understanding of the overt
goal; the one that is stated.. this would usually be “the task” we are intending to work. What is not
obvious, and never stated is that we each likely have additional, covert goals involved. We may even not
be aware that they are operating. Examples for me might be:
 I am determined to prove I am right
 I am determined not to be proven wrong by you.
 I have some old score to settle with you and this is a way to do it
 I feel comfortable only when I am in control and am afraid that if you get your way I won’t be

The goals, both overt and covert, of any conversation are greatly influenced by my mental models. The
prevailing mental model in business is one aimed toward unilateral control. The typical participants in
business conversations seek to manage the goal and the process of the discussion unilaterally. Each
believes that her or his definition of what needs to be accomplished, and how it needs to be accomplished,
is the only valid one. Each believes that they are right, open, and reasonable, while others are not. Each
person assumes the responsibility for steering the conversation or meeting in the “appropriate” direction
(for them.) When you and I have different ideas about what is appropriate, this unconscious pattern of
unilaterally taking charge has predictably negative consequences for the task and the relationship.

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Problematic Mental Models….. Examples of understandably “normal” and unconscious mental models
that you or I might be operating from include the following. To the degree these apply, we will have
problems in really understanding each other and reaching a mutually satisfying outcome.

 It’s my job to solve problems according to my expertise


 Those whose views prevail gain respect in this company.. I can’t lose face.
 I need to control the conversation to bring us to a positive outcome.
 I am the one who defines what positive outcome means in this case
 I know what I am doing, and you likely do not.
 I am acting sensibly and rationally, but I doubt that you are.
 Its safer to couch a statement I have as a question (Don’t you think that….)
 Discourage questions into my own reasoning or data .. “Because I have 25 years experience.”
 It is more important to look good than to learn something
 Backing off of an initial position is weak

Using the Tools “On Others”… These tools, like any others, will be perceived to be manipulative when
they are used on others from the intention of prevailing in a discussion. This perception would be
accurate and the tools will not be effective. Resentment will be invited in the other person.

A Useful Place To Start

There are approaches one can use to avoid these unproductive exchanges. This summary will examine
advocacy and inquiry and the consequences of using them effectively; learning how to apply them
productively with awareness and skill. What this summary cannot do, however, is instill the most
important guideline for using advocacy and inquiry effectively…. the genuine desire to relate to others
with dignity, respect, and curiosity… the genuine intent to use the tools as a means to operationalize the
learning values in one’s self. This intent must be found in the heart. When present, it is obvious to all.

Learning-oriented Mental Models….. If I am able to operate from some fundamentally different


mental models, conversations and interactions can have very positive outcomes for us both. If I am able
to approach you with the following assumptions, I can assist us both to end the interaction with a
productive outcome, an improved relationship, and enhanced feeling about ourselves:

“We need to work together to understand and address the real issues. I don’t
have all of the information. I may even be inferring incorrectly. My job is to learn
and to help you learn so that we can create the best possible outcome. That is how
people gain respect in this company.”

A mental model like this asserts that winning is possible only if there is learning, and that learning is
paramount to creating success. I don’t even have to make this mental model explicit or get you to agree
to operate the same way. Just by my being aware and choosing to be and operate differently, you will be
affected, as will our results. The goal is to improve our collective thinking and to create shared
understanding and direction.

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Advocating Productively (The issue here is to assist the other to understand me)

This is the tool where I am taking a position and assisting you to understand why it is making sense to me
(at this moment.) It assists us both to detect and resolve potential flaws in my reasoning, gaps in my data,
or the fact that we may really have different goals. Productive advocacy requires me to be aware of
myself and of you. It requires skills in listening, speaking, sensitivity, respectfulness and humility. Here
are some examples of strategies for productive advocacy:
 Expose key assumptions, biases and presuppositions underpinning my belief or statement
 Expose my reasoning, data, concerns and goals
 When I have doubts about my data or conclusion, share them up front
 When making my case, use observations rather than assessments whenever possible to make my case
 Illustrate reasoning with examples and concrete instances
 Inquire into other’s reactions to what I am saying.
 Acknowledge to myself and others that I may be wrong

In general, advancing my case with humility, and being respectful of alternative positions, does not
weaken my advocacy; it redirects it. My intention moves toward learning and not toward prevailing at
any cost. Humility and respect can quickly disarm others who are locked into their positions. We all
learn to push back when pushed. How different might it be if when somebody pushed, I pulled? When I
encounter someone advocating a position different from my own, what might it be like to ask more about
theirs rather than advocate my own even more strongly.

Instead of “I am right and you are wrong” the implicit message of productive advocacy is:
“I see the situation from a limited perspective, and through the filters of my
mental model. I don’t think that this is the only possible way of making sense
of what is happening. So I want to share my observations, thoughts and
interests with you, and get your reactions to them. Together we can create a
more effective outcome than I would on my own.”

Productive Inquiry (The issue here is for me to understand the other)

This is an essential companion to productive advocacy. It involves more than knowing what questions to
ask and learning how to ask them skillfully. It is a method of engagement, a way to be present with
myself and with others. Attentiveness and genuine curiosity are my most important tools if I wish to
inquire effectively… that, and the willingness to really listen to the other person. It has been said that
“the wonder of discovering the other person’s world is inversely proportional to our sense of self-
importance.” Here are some examples of strategies for productive inquiry:
 Explain why I am inquiring.. describe my interest or concern
 Focus my inquiry on learning, not on proving myself right
 Hold my thoughts and judgments lightly
 Make my reasoning about the other person’s statements apparent and let them respond
 Ask open-ended questions like “Do you have a different view?”, “Interesting.. what led you to think
that?”
 Ask the other about my role in the problem “How do you think I might be making this conversation
difficult?”
 Test my understand by asking the other for examples or offering some for their response
 Don’t ask questions unless I am genuinely interested in the other’s response
 Listen, listen, listen
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Balancing Advocacy and Inquiry

The power of these tools compounds when they are used together. It is seldom enough in a conversation
to only advocate or only inquire. If I only advocate, I will not learn about potential flaws in my own
thinking, or about the other person’s reasoning or data that may be in conflict with mine. If I only
inquire, I may deprive the other from hearing about my alternative view. What is worse, I might use
inquiry as a way of leading the discussion to validate my own views, views which I keep hidden.

Skillful use of advocacy and inquiry can help with problems of the Ladder of Inference. I can avoid high-
level abstract discussions that prevent mutual understanding and leave you and I stuck in our divergent
positions; victims of our own self-reinforcing logic. I can also assist in avoiding pseudo-agreements that
result in major breakdowns when the conversation moves from ideas to action… the point where things
really tend to get clear and therefore difficult.

One Can Make A Difference

Conversations go better if both you and I are aware of the appropriate use of these tools and if we are both
operating from a position of wanting to learn and do what is best. However, even if you have never
heard of advocacy or inquiry, I can influence a more positive outcome. By using advocacy well, I can
assist you to understand more about my position, even if you are not asking about it. And by using
inquiry well, I can find out more about your position, even if you seem reluctant to offer it outright. As
always, I can only control me and as I am different, so will you likely be affected.

There are many elements and nuances to successful advocacy and inquiry that can be discovered and
practices over many years. But at the core, there are just a few simple questions to ask if I wish to use
them effectively:
 “What is my intention in this conversation… really?”
 “Am I more interested in learning or in prevailing and looking good?”
 “What are my beliefs and assumptions, and am I willing to change them?”
 “What outcome matters most to me?”
 “Am I intending to operate from the learning values of humility, compassion and authenticity?”

Learning the answers and entering the exchange with a stance of awareness, openness, curiosity and
reflection, can help me have a far more productive and satisfying conversation than I might have hoped
for.

“Yes but… is this person for real?”

That can be the reaction of others when they first encounter someone who is sincerely working to operate
from the learning values and using advocacy and inquiry as tools for genuine understanding. It is a break
in the “normal” way of interacting. It isn’t playing the game. It can make others a bit suspicious and
nervous at first. This is what Transformation is all about. It is about stepping up to the plate. Breaking
the old patterns that are no longer serving us well. It requires courage and resolve to be one of the early
adopters of a new mode of operation. There is no real choice if change is to be significant. Those of us
who are aware, are responsible for changing the pattern. Those of us reading this material are the aware
ones. In my opinion, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to each other, and to the organization which is
supporting this awareness.
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Mental Models

Several Ways of Seeing

People will see and comment upon the following images in a variety of ways. Who is right? Who is
wrong? More importantly, why might a breakdown occur between two people who have different views?

F ig . 2
F ig . 1

I often hold onto my perceptions and beliefs with a fierce grip, unwilling to give them up. Yet when I
encounter an image, an argument, or an idea that can be perceived in more than one way, I am reminded
that what is “real” or “true” is less certain than I might wish it to be. I am reminded that I can be blinded
by my convictions, that my way of seeing and being is not necessarily the only way.

It is possible for one person to see the illustrations one way and another person to see them in a totally
different way. Depending on the assumptions they use to interpret the equivalent messages that their
retina sends to their brains, they will see one thing or another. Since these assumptions operate
automatically from the deepest layers of their unconscious, both individuals can be absolutely convinced
that their way of seeing is the only “reasonable” way.

Context Is Important

1,504,983

This number doesn’t mean much as it sits there by itself. But if it were your net worth it would have a
very different significance to you. If it appeared as the Net Income for the quarter for Shell Oil Company,
it would mean something quite different again. The number has not changed but the context in which the
number makes sense is radically different. Context shapes meaning. Understanding is a holistic
phenomenon; I grasp a situation as a whole and then interpret the parts in relation to that whole. So in the

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context of my own net worth, this number means one thing (good - wishful thinking) and in the context of
Shell Oil Company Net Income it means another (very bad results).

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Making Sense of My World

Mental models are my deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, pictures, images and stories that
influence how I understand the world and how I should take action in it. They operate everywhere I do..
in my personal life, in the workplace and in my social organizations. They are very important in that they
help me make sense of things and to perform efficiently. They shape how I interpret data and act on it.
They determine what I think is proper, moral, expedient and what is expected of me. They help me
decide how to interact with others and the world in a way that maximizes efficiency and maintains
coherence.

For example: when I see a red traffic light I have a mental model that says it is appropriate to start
slowing down and to stop. I don’t (usually) have to go through a decision process about what the light
means at this particular intersection, and what I then might want to choose to do about it. I am on
automatic and this is very efficient. It is essentially programmed in; saving me time and energy. I can
actually be thinking about other things at the time.

These mental models, or ways of thinking and understanding things, are necessary to sustain a healthy
life, but they can create great breakdowns as they induce different perceptions, understandings, and
assessments among different people. Different perceptions and actions are not a problem by themselves.
They become so, however, when people who need to coordinate their actions don’t use their different
perceptions to enhance their understanding of one another’s mental models, and therefore the situation
they are considering. In many cases what happens instead, is a battle of wills… to determine who has the
“right” picture of reality or what is important. As in the opening diagrams, there are many ways of being
“right.”

I count on my mental models to always be there when I have a new experience that needs to be
interpreted. But by being in the background, they also disappear from my awareness. I naturally focus
my attention on the foreground.. the content of what is said or done,…. And ignore the background….
The context of what is said and done. Yet this interaction between foreground and background is
critical. Background context affects the foreground content. If you and I have different mental models,
we may be focusing on the same content, yet interpret it very differently since we are operating from
different mental models about the context.. the background.

Mental models are like glasses, filtering everything I see and making my vision uniformly coherent and
thus more comfortable. But they can be so comfortable that I can easily forget that I have these glasses
on. I quite naturally began to believe that the world I see through these “filters” is the same as reality
itself.

Mental models are like air. They are so important that we depend upon them to survive, and so invisible
and pervasive that I forget that they are even there. But, unlike air, which is common to both you and
me, our mental models are unique to each of us. They stem from our individual personal histories.
Efficient and important though they are, mental models can cause great gulfs and breakdowns among
individuals who are attempting to work together. When our mental models recede into the background of
our awareness they leave us in the throes of “blind certainty,” and result in chaos when our dissimilar
mental models clash. Learning the values of awareness, mindfulness, and compassion can help to bridge
gaps of understanding around mental models and our differences can create even greater understanding
and more effective relationships.

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Where Do They Come From?

They come from four sources:

1. Biology… The biology of my physical being is one source of “filters” through which I perceive the
world around me. My nervous system is capable of perceiving certain phenomena, but others escape
my senses because of my physiological limitations. My range of hearing, sight, smell, etc. are
limitations on my ability to really perceive all that is available in these areas. Various animals and
even other humans have differences in these abilities. Thus, my body, itself, limits what I can
become aware of. Limitations are the rule in all the domains of the senses, and these affect how I
make sense of the world and myself in it. And the same is true for you.

We cannot understand outside of our senses… We have no way of knowing anything about the
outside world except what our instruments tell us. From the information we receive on our
instruments we construct reality… mental models that create a picture of what is us, what is around
us, and how we fit in relation to it. And in addition, I can never know, for sure, just what your
instruments are telling you.. even when we are using the same instruments. The subtlest differences
in one perceptual channel, affect all of our senses and no two people apprehend the world in exactly
the same way. You will never quite know the green I see and I will never know the green you see.
However, the similarity in our human biology allows us to operate as though we share reality and
there is the rub. We may not be sharing the same reality at all as we work to interact.

2. Language… This is the second level of filtering in my mental models. Language provides me with
the means to think and communicate about my surroundings. It is a critical framing device for
making the world comprehensible. A common way to understand language is the label theory. I see
things in the world as they are, and then apply a name to label them. Language is a descriptive
system to label and categorize what I am aware of. However, research has shown that the brain
works quite differently. Linguistic categories precondition and shape my perception in the first place.
In other words… I don’t talk about what I see; instead, I see only what I can talk about!

We can only see what we talk about because we are cognitively blind beyond language. In the same
way that we can’t see infrared or hear ultrasound, we can only connect intelligibly with what our
linguistic categories predispose us to perceive.

There is a traditional “tube theory” of communication. Messages flow out of the mind of the speaker,
they get codified in words, then sent through the airways to the listener, who picks them up with her
ears, de-codifies them and brings them to her mind. Just like two computers communicating through
modems…. the thoughts of the speaker are supposed to come to the mind of the listener.

It doesn’t work that way. The conversational companion to “What I see, is what is there” is the false
belief that “What I say is what you hear.” And the mirror image… “What I hear is what you said.”
These are the big communications lies which can bring our conversations to endless
misunderstandings. What we hear is conditioned by our ways of interpreting. I need to make sense of
what I hear before I can “understand” what is said. And the sense I make is never determined alone
by what is said. I hear what you say in the context of my own background.. and context influences
meaning.

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3. Culture…. This is the third set of perceptual filters through which I understand my world. One can
think of culture as a collective set of mental models…. a pattern of shared basic assumptions which
have been learned by a given group as it has solved its problems of adaptation and integration. These
assumptions (unwritten rules) have worked well enough through time, that they are considered valid
and are therefore taught to new members as the “correct” way to perceive, think, feel and act
regarding the group’s issues. These shared mental models serve to create and enforce stability and
meaning within a group.

Cultural assumptions are perpetually being formed, evolved, and reinforced through the interactions
of the members of the group. Change, however, comes about primarily through the actions of
leaders who are willing to break the patterns, and individuals new to the group who bring new
perspectives and assumptions. But challenges to shared assumptions can create anxiousness and
defensiveness among group members. Changing cultural assumptions (transformation) is therefore
always a wrenching process. Cultural mental models… expressed through norms and standards, as
well as common unquestioned beliefs… are very potent, and do much to keep cultures alive and
cohesive. (Often at precisely the time they most need to be changing)

4. Personal History…. This is the fourth force shaping my mental models. Race, gender, nationality,
family influences, where I grew up, how my parents and siblings and teachers treated me, when and
where I began to work, my education, ….all of these experiences (which are different from yours)
shape the mental models that I use to navigate through my world. We might believe that our history
is “behind us.. in the past” but our mental models project our past into the present understanding and
future expectations of the world. Like the RAM memory of a computer, my brain can access
immediately all stored experiences and retrieve them with full texture. This recall affects my mental
models and determines how I respond to certain situations in the present. Whether this recall is
accurate or not is another matter. Whatever does come to mind, however, accurate or not, does shape
how I respond.

Thus, our experiences, conditioned by our biology, our language, our culture and our personal history,
filter and influence how you and I make sense of the world. These mental models cause us to associate
with certain people and not other, to think a certain way, to take one action instead of another, to decide
that one belief is acceptable and another is not. These mental models make sense to us because we live
within them every day. But mine may not make sense to you, because yours have been shaped
differently. And some may not be healthy to either of us. Times change. For mental models to be most
effective, you and I need to understand how they can trap us as well as be of use.

How Mental Models Trap Us

1. Unconsciousness… Mental models operate in the background, rather than the foreground of our
consciousness. This allows us to cope transparently with the world. But this makes us unaware of
them. It is not common that you or I seriously examine a certain belief. And yet the unexamined and
unnoticed is potentially the most dangerous. Only through awareness can we begin to make choices
that are effective for the present conditions. Bring the background permanently to the foreground is
both ineffective and impossible. The call to reexamine our assumptions usually comes from a
breakdown in our lives. This is the moment of choice. It is useful to respond with curiosity and
flexibility, suspending some portion of our mental model in front of us for fresh examination.

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2. Certainty…. Because the preceding four factors shape mental models and given the fact that mental
models always operate in the background, it is not unreasonable to expect someone to declare with
great certainty.. “What I see is what is there.. that is what is real.” Since mental models are both
essential and practically invisible, it follows that we may forget we are using them and that they filter
and influence everything we experience. This trap of certainty causes great trouble when I fall into
it. Declaring that what I see is the truth, and assuming that you should see the same thing in the same
way unless you are crazy, ill-intentioned or just plain stupid….. that’s the problem. This is dangerous
and limiting because it does not allow me to flow with the changes in life. It does not make room for
your mental models and it does not acknowledge that my “truth” is derived from my mental model in
the first place.

3. Blindness… Unconsciousness plus certainty can lead to blindness. When I am sure that I am
perceiving “reality,” and am unconscious of how that reality is only a construct as well as just one
among many constructs, I become blind to my mental models. I become blind to how these models
are incomplete and perhaps now even inadequate.. and… I am blind to my blindness. My mental
models are like eyeglasses with a chip in one lens. I learn to adjust for imperfections so thoroughly
that I forget that the eyeglasses are there and that the imperfections are even there. Even when
confronted with new data, data that tend to turn my mental models “upside down”.. it is normal to try
to compensate for, rather than to change the mental models themselves. This tendency to preserve a
“familiar and comfortable” picture can be a serious problem when the world around me changes in
significant ways.

4. Habit and Rigidity…. This is the fourth way mental models can trap me. Habits are notoriously
rigid. They are hard wired into my operation. And there is a habit of not examining my habits. I do
things because that is what I have always done. I think about some things because I have always
thought of them that way. This creates structures that serve to codify models into definitive forms;
into stereotypes. Once these rigid structures are in place, I create categories and rules that divide the
world up into neat compartments. I then use this unconscious filter to perceive the world in a way
that reinforces the filters themselves.

5. Confusing The Map With The Territory… I am trapped by mental models because it is so easy to
believe that any characteristic I attribute to an object or situation is inherent in the object or situation
instead of something I experience through the filters of my mental models. I forget that the mental
models I am using are like very convenient maps. A map is a useful representation of something that
exists… it is not the thing itself. And like maps, mental models must be a simpler representation of
the “thing” for them to be useful. The map, is not the territory itself. If I forget I am using a map, I
begin to think the map is the territory.

6. Attachment… Another reason I can be trapped by my mental models is that I become attached to
them. Asking me to change or get rid of them is like asking a dog to give up its favorite old bone.
This is especially true when I am operating as a “knower” where my self esteem is derived from
“being right”. Challenging my mental model is akin to challenging my very identity. I cannot
conceive that there might be other equally reasonable perspectives. This is especially true of deep-
seated and cherished mental models, which I might be inclined to call my “values or principles.” But
admitting attachment is not something most of us would do willingly. To keep our attachment
hidden, we don’t call ourselves attached, we call ourselves “realistic.” “Be realistic,” “the FACT of
the matter is,” “here is what is REALLY happening.” These interjections are simply calls for
obedience. They disguise my own interpretations as the truth to yoke you into my perspective, and to
disable you from questioning it.
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Avoiding The Traps

How can these traps be avoided? If caught in one how might I get out? There are some principles that
can help.

First we need to make a distinction between two levels of “forgetfulness”

1. Forgetfulness #1 means that we forget. We forget that the world we experience is always
preconditioned by our mental models. We forget that our listening is dependent on our own context
for what we hear. We forget that our actions are “normal” to us because of the particular personal
history the we have.

2. Forgetfulness #2 means that we forget that we forget. We have a blind spot that our mental models
even exist.

Forgetfulness 1 is the source of habit; it is economical and necessary. 1 is not the problem; what
prevents us from learning and changing is 2. It is neither economical nor necessary. I can drop it without
consequences once I raise my awareness and let go of my ego’s need for certainty and control. When I let
go of my self-importance, when I can detach who I am from what I happened to be thinking and feeling
until now, I gain access to a state of awakened mindfulness. I am aware. I am in a never ending process
of waking up to a fuller, fresher appreciation of what is going on around me.

The contrast between maps and territories is a useful tool to bring me out of forgetfulness 2. It reminds
me that who I am affects how the world shows up for me. Once I understand that, I can begin to see that
respecting the perception of you and others and letting it influence me is a central part of expanding my
experience of the world.

When I am aware of this distinction between the map and the territory, I can say that:
“What I see is what I see, and what is there is what is there”
“What I say is what I say, and what you hear is what you hear.”
What I see/say and what you see/hear might be congruent, but they might not be.

In fact the goal of a good map maker is not to represent the territory, but to help the map-user navigate
through it. The goal of good communicator is not to speak, but to produce a certain listening. The goal
of a teacher is not to teach, but to help the learner learn. The goal of a leader is not to command, but to
enable her followers to accomplish the desired results.

The Ladder of Inference


The ladder of inference is a model suggested by Harvard’s Chris Argyris to describe how we develop
beliefs and take action based upon subjective interpretations that are only tenuously related to what data
we observe. It can be a valuable way to make sense of the world and to construct a meaningful whole
out of many bits of data. Thus, the ladder is functional and necessary to my everyday operation in the
world. However, there is a downside. The same ladder can also allow me to project my fears onto others,
to prove I am right at all costs, to get into breakdowns and conversational trouble. Inferences are
necessary, but they are as risky as they are unavoidable. It is rather certain that even though you and I
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are standing on the same ground of data, we will build and operate from ladders of inference that are
diverging as we go up them. This is trouble. The ladder model isn’t “right.” It is useful for some things.
It is useful for understanding how you and I may unintentionally get into conversational and thinking
trouble with each other.

Inferences Are Useful…. When I see my car in the morning, I do not usually bother to check that the
tires on the other side of the car are inflated before I drive off; I infer that they are. When I see that you
have a stop sign on your portion of the intersection and see you slowing down, I do not (usually) stop
first, just to ensure that you will; I infer that you will stop and I will continue through if I do not have one.
Such inferences save me time and energy, serving as shortcuts to help me integrate, find meaning, and
prepare for the future. But sometimes I infer incorrectly. Sometime I get out onto the highway to
discover that one of the tires was low and is now flat. Sometimes you run into me in the intersection
because you had spilled hot coffee onto your lap and I had not observed that fact.

The ladder of inference can chart how it is that I can make sequential (and often untested) inferences until
I commit to an action based upon these conclusions. Then these actions seem to validate what it is that
makes sense for me to particularly notice in the available data,… reinforcing my beliefs, etc. etc.

I Take Actions based


6. upon these beliefs M y mental models make up the
side rails of the ladder. They are
I Adopt Beliefs about then reinforced by what I tend to select.
the world
5.
I Draw Conclusion based
upon my assumptions
4.

I M ake Assumptions M y Beliefs, influence the


3. based upon my m eanings Data I Select From W hat
Is Possible To Observe
I Add M eanings (cultural
2. and personal)

I Select “Data” from what


1. I Observe

Observable Data (as a


vidio tape might record)

“Grounded Data and Observations”

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Different Mental Models


Means
Farther Apart It can remind us both of how we
sometimes leave grounded reality behind
and begin to climb to our own self-
Your My validating and self-sealing
Ladder Ladder interpretations.. leaving us unsteady and
far apart from agreement on what is real
or a course of action to take.

Starting Data

Below the ground on which the


ladder stands: Three Additional
Layers of Constraints on my
“starting reality”
The ladder of inference model also can remind me of how conditional reality is in the first place. When I
make a well grounded argument, the reality with which I support it is not “Real”… but it is the limited
reality I can perceive and make sense of in the moment. There are at least three layers of constraints that
filter “reality” into the limited universe that I experience.

These layers lie under every sentence, every conversation, and every inference.
1. The biological constraints… limiting what I can actually perceive
2. Cultural meaning constraints… what makes sense, is a function of my culture and upbringing
3. Selection constraints… I can’t pay attention to everything, so I “choose” to notice what “seems”
relevant.

Steps of the Ladder

1. On the first step I have selected my “observable data”.. at least the “data” I have been able, and
chosen to observe given my constraints. This is the data that is “real” to me. Here are found my
observations, not my assessments. Here are my “facts” that can be witnessed by others who are like
me. A video camera could record these facts. (Of course it would also have recorded data that for
whatever reason I did not “select.”)

2. On this step I must “make meaning” out of the data I have selected (the only data I am now aware of).
Here is where I make interpretations and assessments. I create a story or a theory about what is
happening based upon this data and my background (mental models.)

3. On the third step I make attributions about others and make further interpretations and assessments
about the nature of the situation I face. Here I construct a problem from the inferences, determine
what needs fixing, and what options are available to me. On this rung, my assessments, based on
assessments from the second rung, can become widely divergent from yours based upon our different
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mental models.

4. On this step I draw conclusions and make decisions about how to solve the problems I have
constructed on the 3rd step.

5. On the 5th step I create or reinforce “beliefs” that have been suggested by the 4th step. (These will
come in handy later. I can move quickly to these beliefs and take action without having to do too
much thinking next time.) These beliefs, will also be very handy in that they will now suggest the
“data” that is worth paying attention to in another situation that is similar. Again, this saves me time
and grief.

6. On this step I take action. I have created a plausible interpretation of reality and act accordingly based
upon the “data” that I observed.

This illustrates how the first rung in the ladder of inference affects all of the assessments, beliefs, and
actions that follow. How I select data, what I leave out as well as leave in, has enormous impact on how I
assess an event or a person, and how I act as a result. My mental models, the side rails of the ladder,
determine what happens at each step.

Climbing Happens In A Heartbeat

I can go from the bottom to the top rung with great speed…. sometimes it takes only a glance, and I
“know” what action to take. I can make the climb as fast as I can think; running up the ladder in the time
it takes to hear a remark, or to see you enter the room. And 99% of the time I am not even aware I am
climbing.

When I make the climb, the middle steps are almost never taken explicitly. Only the first rung, the
observable data, and the last, the action I take as the result of the climb, are obvious to you or to me. The
move up the intervening rungs is an internal process of assessment building on assessment that is
invisible to others, with each step becoming increasingly abstract. The final action at the top may help to
explain the inferences from below, but not always. That is why your actions may look so unreasonable to
me and mine to you. It is my invisible mental models that hold the ladder together and make the reality I
create seem plausible, at least to me. And to make matters worse… I become convinced that my mental
models afford me the “correct” view of reality and therefor reasonable action to take.

So What’s To Be Done ?

Start with awareness and intention. Being aware of the concept and its implications will help a great deal.
Intending to operate from the learning values is also key. Learning about mental models and
understanding the difference between observations and assessments and using the tools of advocacy and
inquiry enable awareness and effective options.

The ability to infer from conversations, information, and events is an important cognitive skill. It helps to
add meaning and context to what we experience. The ladder of inference demonstrates both the power
and the danger of that ability, and can help us to differentiate between inferences founded solidly on
consensual reality and those based on untested premises and faulty deductions.
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Public and Private Conversations


(Left Hand Column)

The Left-Hand Column case format developed by Chris Argyris and Donald Schon is a technique to
diagram the essence of a conversation and the concurrent but unspoken thoughts and feelings of one
of the individuals involved. It allows one to examine a difficult conversation, and reveal and track
the inner commentary that accompanies it. This is usually commentary which the case writer does
not dare to articulate. It provokes important questions about how and what we communicate:

 What would have been the consequences if I had revealed what I was thinking and feeling?
 What are the consequences of my not having spoken them?
 How might I have been able to do so in a way that did not jeopardize my esteem or the relationship?
 How can I stay true to myself in challenging situations, and, at the same time, enhance the
relationship and effectively deal with the issue?

Defensive Routines

People get stuck. You and I can get locked into an automatic routine that creates a vicious cycle of
confrontation, suffering, resentment, anger, and righteousness. We can think of this cycle as a
”defensive routine,” a set of implicit agreements between us to remain in an uncomfortable but
familiar and stable pattern. Defensive routines are rooted in our mental models, those deeply
embedded beliefs and assessments that provide the framework for how you and I interpret the world
and act in it.

When we become mired in our defensive routines, we collaborate to create a closed system of
relationship. Because I have come to expect that you will act a certain way; I act a certain way in
response. And on and on. Because I have come to attribute certain motives to your actions, I
interpret your behavior in a certain way. And visa versa. We are locked into a self reinforcing
system of interaction. One that is not productive or pleasant for either of us. While this way of
interacting is not productive for resolving our issues or strengthening our relationship, you and I do
tend to get some “secondary benefits” out of the pattern:
 Some feeling of predictability and “being in control”
 Maintaining a front of being rational that avoids difficult thoughts or feelings.
 Assuming that I am acting sensibly while the other person is not
 Saving face and avoiding embarrassment for me and for you
 Avoiding responsibility for my role in the undesirable outcome.

These “unconscious side benefits” of operating in a way that is otherwise unproductive help me to protect
myself from that which I have come to fear the most: failure, ignorance, embarrassment and losing
control. And you are likely just the same. We create defensive routines to perpetuate that self-
protection.

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However…. The primary losses of defensive routines are much greater than the secondary benefits.
These patterns cause me to subordinate my thoughts and feelings, my power, and my real self to you.
They help me protect my ego, but they undermine the vitality and passion that comes from opening
my heart to life moment by moment. When I subordinate what is true for me to what someone else
thinks is “proper behavior” I become alien to myself and invalidate my own thoughts and feelings.

This burying of my self does not make my thoughts and feelings go away. They stay inside, gnawing at
my insides, calling for attention. The Left-Hand Column exercise provides a valuable window into
those unspoken assumptions, judgments, needs, fears and other “undiscussables” that sit just beneath
the surface of our conversations. It is these very undiscussables that provide the essential raw
material to transform unhealthy defensive routines into vital and powerful learning patterns.

Left-Hand Column Technique… How To Do It

1. Choose a Learning Opportunity.. Recall or imagine a conversation that didn’t go well. One
around an ongoing vexing problem is even better. The conversation can be with a coworker, a boss, a
spouse, or anyone you choose. It is important to select one that you considered to have not gone well.
(Anticipating a difficult conversation you will have in the future is also an option)

2. Set The Context.. Write a paragraph or two about the nature and background of the situation. What
events let up to it? What was the context in which it occurred? Who was involved? What thoughts and
feelings did you have about the other person and yourself? What was the problem at hand? What did
you want to accomplish with the exchange?

3. Write the Right-Hand Column.. This is the public conversation. Draw a line down the center of a
page from top to bottom. On the right side, write the conversation that actually happened; only
statements that were actually said. You do not have to be exact, but try to recapture the words that were
used. Leave the left side bland for now.

4. Write Left-Hand Column.. This is the private conversation.. the one that went on inside your head.
On the left side, put down the thoughts and feelings you had at each point in the conversation.. but did
not say. These are the ones that you kept to yourself.

5. Describe the Outcomes.. After the above, write a paragraph or two about the outcomes of the
conversation and your thoughts about them. Investigating will provide important insights:
 What went wrong?
 What happened next?
 What was the effect on you?
 What was the effect on the relationship?
 What was the effect on the problem, or task at hand?
 Why didn’t you say what was in your left hand column?
 What might have happened if you had said it?
 What were the negative consequences of your not having spoken your LHC?
 What do you think might have been in the other person’s LHC at the end of the exchange?

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Now take a look at your LHC. You will likely find that most of your comments were assessments,
negative judgments, attributions, prejudices, and assumptions. In the LHC you may also find
emotions such as fear, anger, shame, guilt, resentment, or anxiety. Frequently, people also keep
secret feelings of tenderness, compassion, care, and love. These are considered “positive” feelings,
but many of us are uncomfortable to reveal them. Intimacy can be as frightening as strife, or even
more so.

It might be surprising to see the kind of material that shows up in your LHC. Can one possibly have so
many heavy thoughts and feelings in one’s private conversations? Yes. Do others? Yes. This
exercise can reveal a huge new territory of human interactions that is normally kept secret, yet very
productive to explore.

What To Do With One’s LHC?

One thought might be to just eliminate it.. to not think this way. Good luck. Very unlikely. No one
CHOOSES to have these thoughts. These thoughts have us. They just happen. They cannot be
outwitted or wished away. They are there because they are calling for my attention. I am always in
the midst of a thought or feeling.

Another thought might be to just speak the truth. To dump the contents of the LHC out. This may
provide some relief, but the LHC is like toxic waste. To just dump it would pollute the
environment (the relationship) The consequences would likely be escalation, hurt feelings, anger,
regret and shame afterwards. In short… saying what is in my LHC is not a good strategy.. This is
really “hot stuff” and that is why I keep it hidden in the first place.

Well, perhaps I could just bury the waste.. to just stuff it… to not let it out. While this does not create an
immediate breakdown as dumping might, it is not a good solution either. Stuffing hot toxic
material inside is not healthy. It will eat me up eventually… It will either “explode” as a result of
too much stuffing or it will “leak” out anyway, all over myself and others. It leaks in the form of
cynicism, hurtful side comments, sulking, and other toxic personal behaviors.

So.. I have a real dilemma:


1. I can’t control the thoughts and feelings that arise.. They just happen
2. I am dammed if I say them… The toxic nature would damage the relationship
3. I am dammed if I stuff them.. just not say them. The toxic nature will gradually damage me,
explode, or leak out anyway.
4. I don’t have a real choice.. I can’t hide them even if I want to (or assume I am doing so)

A way to move past the dilemma is to process the toxic waste. To transform this energy into a positive
fuel for my learning, to nourish our relationship, to break my defensive routines, and to lay the
foundation for more effective interactions in the future. The challenge is to develop the skills and
the wisdom to bring about this processing, this transformation.

Transforming is not the same as applying a balm. The thoughts and feelings need to be fundamentally
changed with catalysts like awareness, empathy, and compassion. This allows the shifting of
relationships from fear and judgment to respect and love.

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The goal of processing toxic waste is to create new and more effective ways of thinking, being, and
interacting. A key is awareness. Self-awareness can cause me to pause, to notice what I am doing,
wanting, saying, and thinking. Without this first step no transformation is possible. This is what
personal mastery is all about. With awareness and intention, I may be able to discover the “deeper
truth” behind the toxic thoughts and feelings. Using the tools of advocacy and inquiry, and being
conscious of the difference between observations and assessments; I may begin to process and alter
the LHC material such that it can be productively stated. This use of the tools can be only
marginally effective without another factor being present. This other factor has to do with me… the
tool user.

If and when I can begin to “be”, to “operate”, from a different base of action, the tools will be
transformational in their effect. This different way of being is addressed with the concept of the
Learning Values. If I am able to operate from a personal position of Humility, Compassion, and
Authenticity, then skillful use of the tools will enable me to “speak my truth” at critical times, and
to be able to do it in a way that the task, the relationship, and my self image, are enhanced….. not
made worse. This is the ultimate challenge of Personal Mastery. How to be able to exemplify the
learning values and interact skillfully, just at those times in my life where I am most likely to “get
hooked” and react in familiar but unproductive ways.

With intention and practice, I can learn to respond differently to toxic situations and people. I can begin
to take responsibility for how I am contributing to the unhealthyness; how I have a part in creating
and maintaining a defensive routine. This doesn’t mean the other person is not responsible as well,
but assuming that I have a part of the problem is conducive to learning and productive change.
Taking responsibility does not mean casting blame on myself. Blame and self-judgment only
perpetuate defensive routines. I can take ownership by accepting myself with compassion, and
acknowledging that my difficult thoughts and feelings are real in that moment. I don’t deny them
or judge them; just consider them a signal to open up into a new level of being and relating.

Each of us carry fears, insecurities, judgments, vulnerabilities and other complex aspects of being human
into each of our relationships. In the workplace in particular we have been socialized to conceal, as
best we can, many of these aspects from public view. But it really doesn’t work. My inadequacies
come through anyway, and so do yours. We don’t know how to handle these inadequacies
respectfully, so we create a mindless contract: I won’t tell you if you won’t tell me. That way we
can both keep playing the game. And perhaps we can keep from being found out. We even
“forget” that we are both playing the game.

But it takes enormous energy to maintain the system of unspoken deceit. We pay a price of
unsatisfactory relationships, and less-than-effective performance. We become unhappy and
discouraged. Then we gripe and complain and we blame. Things get worse. There seems to be no
way out. But there is.

Processing left-hand columns is a life-long effort requiring intention, awareness, operating from the
Learning Values, tools, and practice. It is important to be as gentle, patient, and compassionate
with myself as I want to be with others. Behind every left-hand column, is another LHC. When I
look into my private self, I can get a glimpse of the first layer of my blind self. And since you and I
are human beings we are infinitely rich and complex. This blind self has infinite layers. Exploring
them is both an endless journey and endless source of learning and excitement. As with any
learning, the process is enhanced when I admit I have something I want to learn, when I commit to
do so, when I seek support from others, and when I find a coach to guide me in the process.
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Commitment Conversations

When our individual actions do not suffice to satisfy our needs and desires, we rely on a network of
relationships for help and support. The major way we do this is by making a request. We use language
to create these new collective realities.. to coordinate actions. When a request is accepted a promise
now exists, and a commitment has now been made. We depend upon its being fulfilled. Commitments
enable us to coordinate expectations about the future with each other.

However, breakdowns happen.. usually due to sloppy understanding about the nature and complexity of
commitments.

A request or an offer... initiates the dance of coordinating action that we call a commitment conversation.

Commitment conversations are structured around Requests, Offers, and Promises. All entail
commitments on the part of the speaker and or the listener.

Promise:
A linguistic act whereby the promisor commits to accomplish something in the future by
performing certain acts her/himself, or by others for whom they takes responsibility. The promisor
declares an intention to accomplish something in the future.

Promises constrain possibilities. They close other options. I implicitly promise that I will not also make
another promise that will conflict with, contradict, or undermine my original promise.

Some people do not promise in order to keep their options open. But this is unsustainable. In our
society, to not commit, or to fail on commitments creates an image of being unreliable or untrustworthy.

Promises can create future promises.... each promise enables and can trigger further promises, by others,
creating networks of commitments.

They are implicit as well as explicit... many are not explicit.. social norms and codes of conduct are
assumed.

They are context dependent.... acceptable behavior (implicit promise) depends upon the context (baseball
game vs symphony concert)

Making and fulfilling promises.. A promise requires the agreement of both parties to make it complete..
It is a commitment.. where two speakers come to a shared understanding about the state of mutual
commitments. A offers a promise. B accepts. A is now committed. Or, A requests a promise that B
accepts.. B is now committed.

Completing a promise requires a declaration of satisfaction from the promisee. The authority to declare
completion is not given to the person making the promise... but to the promisee. This declaration of
satisfaction closes the commitment.. usually a ThankYou. Many breakdown happen because of
misunderstanding of this point.

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Offers & Requests:

An offer is a conditional promise.. a promise if the conditions are accepted by the other person. If there is
no acceptance, there is no commitment. An example: I will lead the meeting if you find the conference
room. If you don’t agree to your part, then no deal. Thus, a promise depends upon the acceptance of the
listener. A clear verbal response is key to avoid breakdowns.

A request is an invitation for a promise from an other. Something is missing that the speaker cannot
produce by herself, so a request is made. In making requests, what is important is what is HEARD by
the listener. Some requests are obvious from the context of the situation. What may not be obvious
needs expression. There are key elements for a request to be effectively heard and responded to. When
one or more is missing, a breakdown often occurs. In summary the elements are as follows:

Foreground (Explicit) Elements Background (Implicit) Elements

1. A specific speaker….usually “ I” 1. The context of the need, or concern prompting


the request

2. A specific verb… usually “request” 2. A sufficient amount of trust exists between the
parties.

3. An specific intended listener… some 3. “All Things Being Equal” Assumes that the
individual conditions remain roughly the same.

4. Specified conditions of satisfaction.. what, in 4. Discussability exists. The conditions are


what form, by when, to whom, etc.. established such that the respondent has the ability
to question, clarify, re-negotiate, or say no without
reprisal.. (If not.. this is an order, not a request)
5. A “hearable” message… a clearly stated
message vs. expecting “mind reading”

Foreground Elements of a Request:

1. A clear speaker (often “I”) without this the listener can’t be sure who is asking, who they are
committing to, who they can clarify or negotiate with.

2. A clear verb (I request) vs. and order, ask, wish... It is often missing and the source of breakdowns.
“the boss needs this done by Friday”.. “Needs?”

3. An intended listener. The request must be addressed to somebody. Somebody has to accept or
decline. Who is expected to respond and take actions. “Can somebody find out about that
customer?” Somebody is not specific.

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4. Conditions of satisfaction (including time) The point of the request is to have something be the
case (X) at some point in the future (Y). These need to be clear to both parties. It is on this point in
particular that clarification questions need to be asked by the listener to avoid breakdown and
misunderstandings.

5. The message is actually “hearable” .. it must be in a form that the listener can receive it, vs.
thought, but not stated, or just “hinted” at. Some people assume others should be able to read their
mind.

Background Elements of a Request:

The preceding basic elements of a request take place in a context, or background that can also be the
source of breakdowns if something is missing:

1. A Expressed Concern... Behind each request is a concern that the speaker is attempting to take care
of. This may not be obvious and therefore the context of the request can be misunderstood.

2. Trust.. We assume that in making a promise, and offer, or a request the person is
TRUSTWORTHY.... competent, honest, reliable (intent, capability, reliability) If this doesn’t exist,
the listener cannot safely plan for the future.

3. “All Things Being Equal” any promise is conditional on relevant factors not changing that would
allow me to keep the promise. Just what constitutes a “relevant factor” is, of course, and assessment
and therefore open to discussion between the two parties involved.

4. The context... Discussability and Power.. When one person has grater authority over another... it
is critical that that person set a context for the request where clarification or negotiation can take
place. The person being asked to accept the offer, or the condition of a promise must be able to
inquire about the background and foreground elements... even to decline. This ability for inquiry
must be present in the relationship or established.

Bennett Thoughts On Trust… What is needed for an effective relationship and the delivery on a
commitment is the assumption that: Request + Response = A Commitment = A Done Deal

For this to work, both parties must have a reasonable degree of trust in the other… In this case a useful
way to understand trust is that trust exists when three conditions are in place. The lack of any one
indicates low trust:
1. Ability… I trust your ability to do what you say you will do.
2. Willingness… I trust you are willing to do what you say you will do.
3. Reliability.. . I trust that you are reliable (won’t ignore or forget)

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“Trust increases when trusting actions (like a request) ,


are met with trustworthy responses (commitment met)”

The core value of "Trustworthiness" is one that is often asked about in this regard. A recent study of
employees of 57 organizations produced the following results:

People were asked about their feelings of trust for peers, leaders, other teams, and senior managers.
Respondents were most likely to trust their LEADERS, giving them an average of 5.06 score on a 7
point scale. Senior management was the least trusted group at 4.5

The study produced the following as the top five TRUST-BUILDING behaviors..

1) Communicates openly and honestly with me, without distorting any information.
2) Shows confidence in my abilities by treating me as a skilled, competent associate.
3) Listens to and values what I have to say, even though she or he may not agree.
4) Keeps promises.
5) Cooperates and looks for ways that we can help each other.

The following five were ranked as the most TRUST-REDUCING behaviors:

1) Acts more concerned about his or her own welfare than anything else.
2) Sends mixed messages so that I never know where she or he stands.
3) Avoids taking responsibility for action.
4) Jumps to conclusions without first checking the facts.
5) Makes excuses or blames others when things don't work out

Recommitment Conversations
(Skillful Complaints and Apologies)

When breakdowns occur, they can result in distrust, resentment and destroyed relationships.. with neither
party knowing how to repair the damage or even being able to talk about its existence.

The way to repair breakdowns, and possibly to create even stronger relationships is to skillfully use
complaints and apologies.

Despite the best of intentions.. breakdowns happen.. Here are some common reasons:

1. There is no promise because there is no request. What is wanted, is not explicitly stated. One person
assumes the other is reading their mind.

2. A request is made, but it is not accepted as a promise. A “we’ll see” is not a promise, but may be
assumed to be by the requesting party. This is conversational muddiness.

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3. Miscommunication concerning conditions of satisfaction. I assumed you knew I meant to deliver the
report in person, vs. putting it in the company mail.

4. There is a change in the contextual circumstances that make fulfilling the request impossible. I
agreed to pick you up at 7:00 but my car had a flat tire.

5. The promisor doesn’t do what was promised. Forgot, changed mind, has a conflict, or just ignores
the promise.

6. The promisee reveals the conditions of satisfaction late in the process. She asks that I watch the
children for the afternoon next Saturday. I agree. At noon on Saturday, she explains that this
included the neighbors 3 children as well, until about 7:00 pm. which now interferes with my bungee
jumping class.

7. The promisee changes the conditions of satisfaction. I ask her to make some notes about how her
training program might be improved as she progresses through it. She agrees. Midway through, I ask
that she format her thoughts into a report suitable for distribution to our other locations. (this
effectively requires a renegotiation of the promise.. but often the promisee avoids a renegotiation and
just resents the change)

A breakdown disrupts the flow of action and may cause immediate problems. What is even greater
impact, is the likelihood of destroying trust in relationships. This can have great impact over a long
period of time. Not only does it affect the quality of our lives, but can prevent colleagues from counting
on each other to accomplish business results.

Without a background of trust, it is impossible to have productive commitment conversations.

Breakdowns in commitment conversations linger and fester because of how we normally deal with them.
We feel justified in our disappointment or anger. We make assumptions, and complain and whine to
friends who will provide sympathy. The other person makes assumptions and assessments to justify their
behavior.. Both may feel better and even more righteous from bitching and moaning to sympathetic
friends. However.. neither is doing anything to engender healing of the relationship and a resolution of
the breakdown.

Bitching and Moaning... Common Patterns:

1. Bitch and moan mostly to people who cannot help us resolve the breakdown. To friends who will be
sympathetic without challenging our part of the issue. “Ain’t it awful” This kind of attention does
little to improve the situation.
Friends could help... by assisting the person to work through the emotional turmoil and then
coach on performing an “actionable complaint.” However, this takes real skill and compassion to
move the person from bitching and moaning to effective action.

2. Bitch and moan to the person responsible for the breakdown... but in a way that is really just a
“dump”. Let them have a piece of our mind. Assign blame, rather than to seek resolution to the
situation and the relationship. Dumping in this unskillful way overwhelms the listener and creates
defensiveness. Blame just gets shifted back and fourth. After this kind of exchange, both people
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usually feel shamed and angry. The relationship and trust is even worse.

3. Bitch and moan repetitively. Tell the same story over and over to different people (who, as before,
do nothing to resolve the situation.) Provides some momentary relief but does not address the root
cause of the problem. This not only bolsters the bitcher’s position as a victim, but feeds into the
resentment that his friends may have about authority figures.

4. Bitch and moan, resulting in negative personal assessments. As a way to secure our righteous self-
image, we tend to attribute ill intentions and dark motives to the other person.

5. Bitching and moaning generates bitterness and feuds. Because it seeks to assign blame, and make
the blamers look good in the blaming, there is no bridge possible between the parties. “Camps” are
created. Them and us. With no bridge, relationships collapse.

What Do We Get Out Of Bitching and Moaning ?

1. To be “right” and make the other “wrong”... By sharing with friends who will collude, we experience
the exhilaration of being right... a sense of security and legitimacy. A holier-than-thou attitude based
upon the victimization we are suffering.

2. Elicit sympathy. We can ignore conflicting data, and our friends won’t confront the holes in our
story.

3. A sense of power and control. Some think that getting angry and holding on to resentments
demonstrates power and strength and pride. It usually masks feelings of helplessness,
disappointment, insecurity, or fear..... Anger and resentments are actually used as substitutes for
feelings of genuine personal power when used in this way.

4. Can avoid communication and making others feel guilty. Don’t have to share my thoughts and
feelings with the other person. Can maintain comfortable distance. Resentment is safer than
closeness and open communication for many people.

5. Can avoid assuming responsibility for my role in the breakdown and can avoid the difficult emotions
that arise in myself. Like a tranquilizer that becomes addictive. I blame others, remain a victim, and
avoid any responsibility for the condition or changing it.
For example.. I may be incompetent in making clear requests. I might not even know what I
really want.

Actionable Complaints

An actionable complaint is the key element of a recommitment conversation where breakdowns can be
repaired. It aims to reestablish the relationship and get the commitment back on track. The complaint
is focused on the breakdown itself, not on unrelated assessments... and allows the respondent to act upon
it.

Elements of an Actionable Complaint:

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1. Made to the person who made the commitment... not a third party.

2. Made right away, once and for all.... this keeps it from “growing with time”.

3. Ends in a request and recommitment conversation.... nothing to do with negative personal


assessments and blame. Seeks resolution, not blame or sympathy, or guilt.

4. Generate respect and teamwork... serves as glue to bring the relationship closer.

5. Produce learning... breakdowns provide rich data about what went wrong and how to improve in the
future. Mental models are revealed and changed.

The reason for a recommitment conversation is a breakdown in a promise. It is an attempt to rectify the
breakdown and the relationship.

Outline of steps to follow:

1. Check your intention. I want the situation fixed, but is there something else I really want? If it is to
repair the relationship and establish trust, the outcome will be quite different than if the real intent is
to “get back” or to have them “owe me something”.
It is useful to be clear on what I might want to learn. How I could have contributed to it. To
understand it from the other person’s point of view. This is a stance that requires humility and
curiosity... not a posture associated with an aggrieved person who is bitching.

2. Set the context. State the intention to the promisor. This person will likely enter the conversation
with any number of feelings and postures: surprise, defensiveness, guilt, embarrassment. .... and is
likely to expect bitching and moaning based upon passed experience. Set their mind at ease and let
them know the intent to take care of the breakdown and repair the relationship. This is particularly
important when talking up the hierarchy. Calling an authority figure on a promise they didn’t
fulfill can be dangerous. Making a request to make the complaint, and basing it on concern for
effective action and relationship can minimize the risk.

3. Assert and check the prior commitment. Many breakdowns result from a misunderstanding.
Ensuring that both parties agree to the facts of the original commitment provides necessary common
ground on which to proceed.

4. Assert and check the breakdown. The complainant asserts what she understands the breakdown to
have been and then checks for the other person’s understanding of the facts. (do not yet, bring up the
consequences... just checking for common facts at this point)

5. Inquire about the promisor’s perspective. By now, all agree there has been a breakdown, but the
complainant doesn’t know yet why the promisor did not fulfill the promise. This inquiry may
produce new facts, and demonstrates the complainant isn’t locked into a ready-made story of negative
assessments.

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6. Issue a damage report. Not to blame or judge... but to express feelings and the ramifications of the
breakdown.. what were the consequences.... for the complainant to share his perspective and
concerns. Own them and state them clearly as a declaration.. not up to debate.
(when both have been able to share perspectives, facts and feelings, there is an excellent base
for resolution and the re-establishment of trust.)

7. Make a request of the promisor. This is the move to action to rectify the breakdown and the
relationship. Perhaps as simple as recommitting to the original promise, or some kind of restitution.
Define the conditions of satisfaction that would enable this incident to be totally over with. Implied
is an offer.. “if you do what I am requesting, I promise not to hold on to what happened any more”

 Avoid the tendency to “be nice” and not ask for what is really needed
 In extreme breakdowns, it may be most desirable to contain the damage by just making a change in
the relationship explicit. Not comfortable, but better than covering up and inviting an ongoing feud.

Fulfilled Promise .. but sensed unhappiness ? ?

If I sense some unhappiness of the other person.. it is good to inquire and invite a recommitment
conversation.. Make it easy for the other person to articulate an actionable complaint.

Actionable Complaints are Counter Cultural

This reality has to be overcome and the format needs to be executed skillfully and with pure intent.
There are a number of reasons why complaints are counter cultural, and therefor tend to be resisted.

1. I might look like a whiner who can’t take care of myself. I might appear needy or vulnerable. The
same reasons that make it difficult for me to ask for help.

2. I might upset or embarrass the other person.. they might get angry at me.
This fear of an emotional reaction can discourage me from raising my complaint. But silence
comes at a high price: the situation will not resolve. When I relate from fear we can’t have mutual
respect.
One of the most critical components of honorable interactions is the power of the speakers to
commit... to be able to speak and be taken seriously.
Although at the surface a complaint might generate embarrassment and anger, at a deeper level it
symbolizes the commitment to take each other seriously. This seriousness is the foundation for the
dignity of the relationship.

3. The issue is not that important.. or worse yet, I am not that important. Lack of self esteem can
block a complaint. If I don’t take myself seriously, I can’t ask that others do so.

4. It is hopeless.. he’ll never change. Another version of a declaration of helplessness.

5. He must have had a good reason. By remaining silent, I never find out why, don’t learn and miss an
opportunity to strengthen the relationship

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6. It’s not nice to confront people. This behavior leads to “terminal courtesy”... it pushes conflict and
resentment underground. This is the cultural basis for “undiscussables”

Actionable Apologies

This is the mirror image of actionable complaints. There, we were helping the other person to apologize
effectively, here we are helping them to complain effectively.

In the dance of recommitment conversations it is enough for one person to know the moves

Actionable apologies are different from saying “I’m sorry”. Expression of regret and responsibility is
only a part... taking action to repair the breakdown is also essential. Also required is reestablishing a
commitment to fulfill some conditions of satisfaction. An apology satisfies the complainant only if I do
what she expects to remedy the situation. It is always the other person who determines the conditions of
satisfaction and declares satisfaction at the end of the process.

Apologies can be even more difficult to offer in a culture than a complaint. To do so brings up two of the
most searing emotions: fear and embarrassment.
What will they think of me if I admit I was at fault... what will happen?
Will I look weak and incompetent?

Thus.. often I avoid taking clear responsibility with an apology and offer defensiveness or weak excuses,
or play a martyr. All of this to avoid pain.

Pain comes from lack of skillfulness. We confuse humility required to admit responsibility with
weakness. There is no need to surrender self-esteem or dignity.

Skillful apologies are honorable and dignifying. They create an environment of mutual respect that
enhances everyone’s self-esteem. They can improve relationships.

Steps In Actionable Apologies

1. Be clear on intentions and set the context. Recognize the receiver may be upset, or assume I will try
to “sorry out”. Establish intention to correct and learn.

2. Review the situation and check understanding of the commitment. Establishing common facts.
Acknowledge and reconfirm the promise made.

3. Acknowledge and check the breakdown. Not self-blame.. just acknowledge that the promise wasn’t
fulfilled.

4. Inquire into the other’s perspective and ask for a damage report. Damage may be to work, feelings,
or the relationship. This establishes common ground as to consequences and allows the other to
express any pain. Listen without argument... do not challenge the expression of emotions and
concerns.... be empathic, seeking to understand.

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5. As apologizer I offer my perspective. Present my view of what happened in a spirit of productive


advocacy and offer of inquiry... just sharing data, thoughts, and feelings.

6. Offer (and/or ask the receiver) what would constitute an acceptable restitution. It’s a good idea to
have thought up an offer ahead of time. This demonstrates a good intent.

Learning Values

Use of The Tools

The communication tools; advocacy & inquiry, ladder of inference, left hand column, etc., have the
potential to do good or to do harm. The intention is certainly that they be used to improve
communication and to increase understanding and commitment. Like any tool, the intention and skill of
the tool user will determine the consequences of the tool’s application. If applied from a position of
humility, compassion and kindness, the result will be understanding and improved relationships. Applied
from a position of arrogance, judgment, and control, and the result will promote gamesmanship,
resentment, and distrust. The basic question to keep in mind: “Am I trying to engage others in
mutual learning or am I trying to have influence over them on this issue?”

If the intention is to use the tools for learning and personal transformation, then it will not be sufficient to
learn about them only through theory, tactical instruction, and skill building. It will be necessary to go
beyond the use of the strategic mind, and fully engage one’s heart and soul; one’s “true self.” This
summary will explore what it takes to make such a commitment. On page 3 are the six learning values
and their opposites. They will help the process. But first, what is meant by “going beyond” the strategic
mind? And what are the characteristics of the transformational tools?

The Strategic Mind and the Soul

The strategic mind includes our “normal, day-to-day” thinking and problem solving processes. With it
we plan, execute, and evaluate results relative to goals. It is very functional and important to daily living.
However, the strategic mind can be an unyielding companion; a jealous partner. It likes unilateral
control, goals, plans, success. And above all, it likes safety. It does not like obstacles, paradoxes, the
unknown, the uncertain, loss, or defeat. The strategic mind does not like other ways of thinking or being
in the world. Its approach is to constantly say: “Trust me.. I know the best way.” “Do it my way... don’t
veer off into the unknown.” Don’t relinquish control.” “Most of all, don’t do anything that could
threaten our safety and inner comfort.”

There is another part of us that has different concerns and rules about our actions than our strategic
mind...it can be called our real self, or the soul. Poet David Whyte writes in his book The Heart
Aroused:
The soul says something.... radical and frightening to us, wholly unlike the soothing
reassurances of the strategic mind. Out of the silence, the soul startles us by telling us
we are safe already, safe in our own experience, even if that may be the path of
failure. Our soul loves the journey itself. The textures and undulations of the path is it
has made through the landscape by hazard and design, are nourishing in themselves.
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The strategic mind likes the small fights, the ones it can control and win. This suggests being safe. But
the truly right way to use the tools and to grow is not just to please or appease the strategic mind. Put
technique and practice to the service of the soul. Allow it to transform any event in your life, even the
“immense storms,” into a learning opportunity that will help your true self to grow. The objective should
be to achieve the ability to respond to whatever life brings to us with an open heart; a desire and
commitment to experience our journey with full intensity.

To grow, by stumbling, by being defeated is a demanding path. It is a way of being that does not permit
hiding behind complacency or blame. This commitment is counter to the desires and intentions of the
strategic mind It suggests a commitment to take everything in life as a challenge..

From Carlos Castaneda’s books about the Yaqui shaman Don Juan, the shaman speaks to his apprentice
Carlos:
“Only as a (spiritual) warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior
cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge and challenges
cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges. The basic
difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything
as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

And the German poet Rilke said:


Winning does not temp that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively
by constantly greater beings.

Transformational Tools Transform Their User

The tools are simple. Yet their appropriate use is not easy. The paradox comes from the tension between
the obvious superiority and simplicity of the tool, and the learner’s difficulty in applying it effectively and
consistently. To apply them effectively is a challenge. To apply them effectively means having to
examine some of the automatic ways of thinking and feeling that are standing in the way of mastering the
tool. Learning to use them transforms the tool-user, and also transforms the situation within which they
are used.

It is not effective to create transformational change by asking people to think differently. The approach is
to give people tools, that by using them in a transformational manner, will bring the tool-user to a
different level of awareness.

A transformational learning tool meets special requirements:

1. It needs to be obviously more effective than other tools in the learner’s current tool kit. This
obviousness can come from demonstrations and conversations that show its effectiveness.
2. It needs to be simple enough that the learner could easily imagine using it. How it works must be
transparent so that everybody can understand what it does and why it works.
3. It needs to be so appealing that the learner wants to use it and to help others to do so as well. This is
the big difference between a learning tool and a manipulation tool. In the latter, to give it away would
be to loose a desired advantage.
4. The tool needs to be at least mildly effective when used at the learner’s current level of awareness.
This means it works reasonably well in a low-stress situation, but fails to work (learner can’t apply it
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yet) in situations that challenge the learner deeply. (a situation that strongly invites the learner to
default to old patterns of thinking and reacting)
It is possible for a person to be “effective” with these tools in the workplace even without an
intention to personally transform. The environment may become somewhat more efficient
and productive, even if it is not emotionally healthier. These gains fall short of the soul’s
desire. They are temporary crumbs to satisfy the anxiety of the strategic mind to be sure, to
be safe.
5. It has to induce a mental knot in the learner. One that presents a paradox that forces the learner into a
higher level of awareness from which s/he can transcend the irreconcilable to achieve a new, more
inclusive way of thinking and operating... to transform.

Six Learning Values - Three Pairs, Each With An Opposite

The Learning Values and Their “Shadow Sides”

Inward Directed.. To Myself Outward Directed… Toward Others

HUMILITY Arrogance WONDER Cynicism

COMPASSION Judgment EMPATHY Alienation

AUTHENTICITY Deception “LOVE” Reification

The first of each pair is inward directed, focused on centering the value within myself. The second, is
outward directed, focusing on how I “expand” this value to interact with the world.

Humility and Wonder (the map is not the territory)

Models and maps are useful because they are simplifications of reality. They are not reality itself. In this
sense they are not even “true.” A specific model or map can be very useful for certain things; yet not at
all appropriate for other situations. They are constructed, based upon the purpose the user has in mind at
the time. For example: If I were going to look for the routes of sewer lines in Houston, I would not want
to use a city “Key map”. I would want one developed for that particular purpose. And even then, I would
want to be sure the map was up to date. If I were interested in the political demographics of the city,
neither of the previous maps would be of much use. I would want one that displayed the voting districts
and perhaps voter registration percentages.

If you and I both were about to drive from here to Omaha Nebraska, we would likely each need a map as
a guide to help us get there. You may have a map from AAA which only outlines the major roads and
interstate system. I may have a pile of state maps from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Both of
us would be able to find Omaha with little difficulty, as might someone with a small airplane using an
aeronautical chart.

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The issue here is that no one map (or mental model) is better in the absolute sense than any other. All are
incomplete and wrong in that they do not accurately represent reality completely. They are useful for
some things at some times and they need to be updated. They simplify reality and are therefore useful to
us but in order to be useful, they have to give up being precisely “right.” Useful is good enough.

Humility means being at peace with the knowledge that my mental models are imperfect…. When
I operate from a position of humility I am aware that you may have mental models that are just as right
and helpful to you, as mine are to me, and that they may be very different. When I operate from humility
I recognize that there is no right, there is no universal truth about things. With this knowledge, it is easy
for me to admit I am may be wrong, misguided, or incomplete in my views and assumptions. This
makes it much easier for me to make room for new information, perspectives, or experiences that might
inform me more usefully. It is not that I don’t have and operate from my own views of the world, I do.
But it is key that I don’t forget they are only “maps” that are not the same thing as reality.

Wonder is the outward directed aspect of Humility…. While humility allows me to acknowledge,
with peace, the boundaries and limitations of my own mental models, wonder encourages me to seek
joyfully the boundaries of them and to explore new possibilities that might exist beyond. In wonder, I am
sincerely open to being in the unknown. I am able to say, “I don’t know what is going on, and I feel alive
in the challenge to learn about it.” (One can imagine how repugnant this is to the safety-seeking strategic
mind) But wonder is food for the soul. Wonder means welcoming whatever arises (even my troubles and
problems) with openness; treating each experience as an opportunity to update mental models and to
create new ones. When I operate as a “learner”, I am operating from the learning value of wonder.

Arrogance is the “shadow” side of Humility, and Cynicism is the shadow of wonder…. When I hold
onto my mental models too tightly, believing that they represent some important truth or rightness, I am
likely to become arrogant and prideful. “This is the way it is.” The arrogant person would rather see
themselves as right, than effective. Would rather protect his/her ego than admit a mistake. Arrogance
blurs the distinction between the map and the territory and impedes effective communication, since
anybody who has a different idea from mine must be wrong.

Arrogance and clinging to preconceived notions are antithetical to growth and learning. They push us out
of wonder and instill fear and confusion in our hearts. Arrogant people drain my spirit.

The cynic takes the position in the world that says “I don’t know what is going on and no good can come
from that.” The distinction between cynicism and wonder is the ability to stay open to learning when we
are out of our comfort zone established by the strategic mind. As a cynic the person reacts to discomfort
with a determination to prove that what is challenging her/his comfort is worthless and deserves to be
destroyed or changed.

Safety comes from our ability to stay aware of ourselves and our environment. We cultivate awareness
by paying attention and staying open to unfamiliar experiences.

Staying open.. depends upon a deeper level of self-esteem and security. When presented with an
uncomfortable situation, difficulty, or challenge, the normal reaction of the strategic mind is to tighten up
in an automatic defense mode. To alter this pattern, I must be able to adopt a larger perspective.. the
perspective of the soul.

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Compassion and Empathy

These learning values refer to one’s ability to experience the perspectives of another human being.

Compassion …is the willingness to understand that everyone is doing the best they can.. according to the
mental models they are operating from. This implies both a positive regard for the other person, but also
acceptance. True compassion allows me to remain open when I receive an explanation or interaction
that does not satisfy me… When operating from compassion, I am able to develop a genuine curiosity
about other’s reasons and actions, and can ask questions with care and concern.

Compassion depends upon humility. If my curiosity is only a veiled judgment, and I am more interested
in proving myself right than understanding how you may be also right.. then I am not exhibiting
compassion. Compassion is not inconsistent with opposition or conflict. I may still call the police on
someone robbing my house.. I may still be angry. However, when I see others compassionately, even if I
am angry, I can relate to them from a wider perspective that includes, but is larger than, my anger.

True compassion and a deep understanding of freedom of choice and responsibility generate an attitude of
respect. Respect is the sincere belief that people possess the power and wisdom necessary to live their
own lives, that they have the right to make their own decisions and act autonomously. Respect is the
acknowledgment that all human beings have the right to choose their destiny.

Empathy… this is the outward expression of compassion. It is similar but it makes a bridge into the
other’s experience. In empathy I step outside of myself to adopt the other person’s point of view: I try to
see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and to perceive the world through their mental models. Empathy
takes us to a different level in our relationship with another person. When I listen to someone’s words or
see their actions as an entry into their mental model, I might really understand and empathize with them.
Building that connection is a great accomplishment in a relationship. It is not easy. It requires a strong
sense of self, awareness, and a maturity that allows entering into the other, without losing the self.

Our first reaction to most of the statements we hear from another is an immediate evaluation, or
judgment, rather than an understanding of what was said and intended. When someone expresses some
feeling or attitude or belief, our tendency is, almost immediately, to react with thoughts like: “That’s
right”, or “That’s stupid”; “That’s not normal”, etc.…. Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand
precisely what the meaning of the statement is to that person. This may be because real understanding is
risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding.

Compassion and empathy are not only for others. We are often most harsh and judgmental with
ourselves. An attitude of self-acceptance is a necessary step to accepting others peacefully.

Judgment is the shadow side of Compassion…. This suggests assessing others or parts of myself from
a narrow perspective, without considering that their point of view is a valid one and deserves respect. I
apply right or wrong to what I hear as a result of my own mental models filtering the data. I apply a
“should” to what I hear.. how they should be, or what they should do. We are taught to be critical in our
listening of others and have become so skillful at it that we forget an obvious fact. Before critiquing
someone else’s view, I must first understand it.

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When I judge others uncompassionately, I cannot respect them. When I decide things for others, I am not
respecting them.

The shadow of Empathy is Alienation… This means I am not connected with another person’s
experience as all. I am isolated form considering it. Alienation is one of society’s ultimate reprochments
- we isolate and banish people.. severing connection. As if the other doesn’t exist. This is the ultimate
discount of a person.

Authenticity and Love

Full communication demands full presence. In our culture, we have learned that only certain parts of
ourselves are acceptable to expose, those parts which are rational and consistent with social norms. But
those parts are not all of me… not all of who I am. And often the aspects that I least want to face are the
dimensions that have the most to teach me and help me grow.

Authenticity is the willingness to embrace all of myself, to hold all of my aspects even the darkest ones.
In order to transform myself, I must know who I am, which requires the authenticity to be fully present
and the courage to work with my shadows.

Authenticity allows me to accept myself and others fully… warts and all. It demands a high level of
courage and commitment to learning. Being authentic means to face my internal and external challengers
with awareness and compassion. This allows me to transform my demons and enemies into teachers, and
give me congruence, a sense of harmony that aligns my thoughts, words, and emotions.

Authenticity is not a state I accomplish but a journey I choose moment by moment. Every situation
confronts me with a choice between authenticity and inauthenticity… Especially in unpleasant or
uncomfortable situations, I can fall prey to my ingrained patterns and act mindlessly, or I can take the
path of thoughtful authenticity.

When I react without awareness, I reinforce the pattern of protectiveness and suffering. I protect my
softness by covering it up with a hard shell, but this shell also cuts me off from my vulnerable heart.
When I see the situation as an invitation to explore and embrace all of who I am, on the other hand, I
become more fully human. This demands a leap of faith; faith that there is inherent goodness at my own
core.

Love (Radical respect for another)…. This is the elemental respect for another - another part of
oneself, other people, other beings, the world. With this kind of love, we respect every being’s right to
exist as is, with no conditions attached. We do not try to manipulate or use another being.. others are seen
as independent of our objectives. The path to this starts with authenticity - accepting oneself completely -
and moves to a level of complete acceptance of the other. This creates a blending and fusing of
boundaries between individuals, between groups. The walls come down.

Deception is the shadow of Authenticity…. Playing roles, hiding parts of our selves, not accepting self
or others, are examples of deception. Most of this is done for the purpose of staying in control. The price
is the disowned or shadow self that becomes unconscious. We become disconnected from the vulnerable
aspects of ourselves. When this connection is lost, we loose access to our passion, our intuition, and our
soul.

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Reification is the shadow of Love…. Reify comes from the Latin for “thing”. Reification is the act of
turning others into things, shaping them into a frozen form. Rather than to accept the mysterious, we
condense them according to or own constructs; we make them a thing.

To operationalize the learning values….

1. Show up (This means participate.. take a risk.. get into the thick of things, no action - no learning)
2. Pay attention (Intention and Awareness)
3. Speak your truth (Self awareness and courage)
4. “Release” the outcome

This latter one is subtle. If we are too invested in what happened in the past, or what will or should
happen in the future, we can’t focus on the present process, the present moment. When this is the case I
can’t keep my mind and awareness open to the new opportunities that might appear along the path. And I
can’t listen to those who want a different outcome without immediately judging them as enemies or ill
informed.

Release the outcome also suggests the value of “detachment.” I do the best I can, and then trust the
outcome will be what it will be and that there is value and learning in it. There is an important difference
between desiring and caring about an outcome and being invested, or deeply attached to it. Investment, or
attachment suggests a strong measure of “should” is involved. This is a set up for many frustrations and
disappointments.

Living one’s life in the learning values is the foundation of Personal Mastery… an ongoing journey with a
clear intention of personal transformation. Making this journey of personal transformation is to address
the ultimate learning gap. Closing it requires firm resolve, compassion for the self, and the willingness to
ask for and accept support from caring friends and competent coaches.

Thoughts on Personal and Organizational Transformation

Personal Mastery is based upon one choosing and working to operate from the Learning Values. This is
the essence of personal transformation. The chart on the following page depicts the belief that personal
transformation is the foundation for transformation of the organization. Organizations are made up of
individuals. Organizations transform only when people do. The concepts of Leading Learning
Communities are based upon the idea that the tools, when used by a person grounded in the learning
values, transform the tool user as well as the environment within which they are used. This alignment of
the individual with the organization is at the heart of the Shell transformation agenda.

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Enables Effective Use Of:


The “Transformational Tools” Transforming The Environment
Being Grounded In: To Produce
Ladder of Inference Improved:
PERSONAL
- Humility
Left Hand Column Quality of:
- Compassion Facts/Opinions/Judgments
- Authenticity Advocacy/Inquiry
Mental Models
(Courage)
Requests/Commitments
Information
The Learning Apologies
Values Constructive Conversations Relationships
TRANSFORMATION
Accept/Offer Coaching
Actions

Transforming The User AND


PREMIER
RESULTS
Leadership
Personal Transformation is the
“Kernel” from which Business
Transformation develops. Alignment
of Individual &
Organization

Winning Spirit
Engagement Ext. Bus. Model

I:\WIPDMP\LLC.PPT

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Multi-Step Communications
(Dealing with Anger & Resentment)

Other Kinds Of Breakdowns

“Recommitment Conversations” introduced an approach to repair breakdowns in commitment


conversations, where a promise was not fulfilled. Not all breakdowns in communications or
relationships are the result of broken promises. Many are the result of disconnects between our needs or
expectations, and how we experience the behavior of others. Even when someone has made no explicit
promise, we can become very disappointed, angry, or anxious when our expectations are not met.

Task and Relationship Breakdown

When misunderstandings and missed expectations happen, the work itself, or the task suffers in terms of
effectiveness and efficiency. This is often not all that significant, and can be reworked or repaired. A
much greater concern is the damage to the relationship among the individuals involved. Personal and
professional relationships become broken .. this kind of wound goes much deeper. People wind up
believing they can’t trust each other.

The deepest level of breakdown, however, is at the level of the self. How does each person now see
themselves after a nasty exchange. Will they doubt themselves? Will they extrapolate this experience
with each other to others. Will they become hardened and righteous to protect themselves? The long
term effect of a profound breakdown can reverberate on the level of self for a long time.

Mindless vs. Mindful Anger

Anger and other emotions, are a natural byproduct of breakdowns. However, anger is so common that
we can overlook how anger can actually perpetuate and escalate a breakdown. It is easy to
misunderstand what anger is and what it signals. And, most of us don’t know what to do with it. We
either express it ineffectively or suppress it. Both cause problems.

Anger in a breakdown is a useful signal. It is telling us something. In can be a message to us that


something is wrong:
 that we are being hurt
 that our rights are being violated
 that we are being discounted
 that our wants or needs are not being met
 that we are avoiding important emotional issues in our life
 that others are doing too much for us or asking too much of us

Just as physical pain is a warning to take my hand off a hot stove, the pain of anger warns me to preserve
the integrity of my self... motivating me to say “No” to ways in which I am being defined or judged by
others and “Yes” to what my inner self is saying. It is a signal that a change is needed. When I am
mindful and have the intention, it can be used to increase awareness, focus attention and foster learning.
Or, when reacted to mindlessly, it can pull me from intention and make matters worse.

It is easy to indulge in anger; making vast generalizations about the people and situations involved. In the
heat of anger, powerful and destructive assessments are made. I quit thinking, and begin reacting.
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Anger’s Unconscious “Benefits”

It can serve an unconscious purpose. Mindlessly expressing anger allows me to avoid deeper issues that
can be more threatening than the surface issue; acting as a magnet to attract and redirect the energy of an
interaction so that the real substance is avoided. It may be easier and “more comfortable” to insult each
other than to deal with a fundamental issue of fear or attraction.

I can use anger to avoid change in myself, by being focused on how you should be different. By “seeing
so clearly” your faults, I don’t have the time or inclination to look at my own.

It is common for me to question my anger, especially when I sense the damage it may do. Logical
questions come to mind like: “Do I have a right to be angry at this?” or “What good does it do?”.

Consider that, like other emotions, anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate. It is neither meaningful
nor pointless. Anger simply is. Whether it becomes a negative or positive force for me, depends first
upon my awareness of it. Then on my intention... do I want to learn and grow from this signal, or do I
want to lash out and hurt with it. And finally, what skill am I able to apply in dealing with it?

To Express Or To Suppress ?

Anger scares me. It not only signals the need for some change (which I may be wanting to avoid), but
also puts me in a no-win situation. There are two main coping strategies which seem automatic:
 Unskillful Expression - This generally leads to escalation of the breakdown.
 Suppression - This generally leads to resignation and resentment.
Neither of these is desirable. This feels like a bind, because instead of attributing these outcomes to
my own incompetence to work with anger, I attribute them to anger itself. I blame the emotion
instead of realizing my lack of skill in dealing with anger that is the cause of pain. Thus, I tend to fear
anger rather than see it as useful.

What Not To Do: Expressing unfiltered, or “unprocessed” anger is like dumping raw sewage. I get it out
so it won’t harm me. But in doing so, I “pollute” the context... the situation, other people, and the
relationships. “Venting” anger, by itself, may be useful to deal with saved up emotion, but will not make
a specific situation better. In venting or dumping anger, I may congratulate myself for “telling the truth”
but this approach rarely promotes healing of a breakdown.

Another What Not To Do: Suppressing anger. I have been taught this from childhood. It seems like a
“good” thing to do. Like many people, I have learned to avoid being punished for it and was taught that I
should only get angry at certain times, certain kinds of people, and only if I am “right.” Since I get angry
often, at the “wrong” times, at the “wrong” people, and for the “wrong” reasons, I have learned early in
life to deal with this unwanted anger by keeping it hidden.

Suppressing anger allows me to feel heroically righteous because I am “protecting” others from it. This is
misguided. It is common to overestimate the destructive power of anger and to underestimate the
destructive power of withheld resentment. Suppressed anger results in resentment. Those I am
righteously “protecting” (even though they have not asked for this protection) become angry at me
because of the withholding. Then I can really get angry because they are being “ungrateful.” People
resent being withheld from and lied to. It is a discount. By the withholding I am in effect saying... “I
don’t trust or care enough about you to let you know what I am really feeling.”
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Suppressing anger allows me to maintain a self-image of being rational and fair. And yet, most
resentments are irrational, unreasonable, stupid, and based upon bad information. Working to make a
case that my resentment is “right” or justified, is not the solution.. it is the problem. To be free of anger
and resentments, I must give up the belief that they have to be justified and legitimate. I must allow these
emotions to be expressed even if they are completely irrational.

Legitimate and Useful Expression

You and I have a breakdown of some kind. I am aware I am feeling angry. Anger often signals the
presence of a legitimate complaint. The breakdown has sparked an emotional signal to this effect.
Assuming I want to make sure this breakdown doesn’t happen again, how do I understand and deal with
this situation?
 I have a right to assert myself through a complaint (as in Recommitment Conversations)
 I have a right to the emotion I am experiencing.
 I have a right to the desire for restitution.
 I do not have a responsibility to prove you wrong (blame)
 I do not have the right to make sure you think or act in a certain way in the future (control).

This is a very important distinction. My responsibility in the face of a breakdown is to OWN and
EXPRESS what is rightly mine: my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions. It is not my responsibility to
manage yours. A key to this, and a difficult one:

I must learn, with my heart as well as my head, that I have the right to everything I think and feel, and so
does everyone else. It is my job to state my thoughts and feelings clearly and to make responsible
decisions that are congruent with my beliefs. It is not my job, or my right, to make other people think
and feel the way I do, or the way I would like them to.

An Important Distinction: Emotions and Assessments

An emotion is a state of feeling... mad, glad, sad, scared. There are not a lot of them. It is appropriate to
declare feelings as in “I feel mad”. It is not appropriate to declare “I feel betrayed” or “I feel you don’t
care about me” because betrayal or not caring are assessments. Also, statements that use the word “that”
after “I feel” are all assessments: “I feel that this is a good time to talk”. Assessments are not emotions.

The distinction is subtle but very important. In English, the word “feeling” refers to at least three
different things:
 A sensation in the body.... I feel pain. I feel weak.
 An emotion... I feel glad. I feel sad.
 An assessment... I feel she is too inexperienced for the job. I feel inadequate.
When an assessment appears disguised as an emotion, the conversation can get into serious trouble.
Emotions, like body sensations make no sense to challenge. They are what they are. I wouldn’t think of
challenging the statement “I have a headache”. Nor should I challenge the statement “I am sad”. And
yet if you made a statement like: “I feel you don’t respect me.” it very much deserves to be inquired
about.
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Multi-Step Communication Process

This approach allows me to address a breakdown skillfully and effectively... to begin to repair the
situation and to improve the relationship. A fundamental aspect in success is the use of “I” statements
and not “you” statements. The issue is for me, as the person wishing to make a complaint I have a right to
my own position, emotions, assessments, desires, and requests. I don’t have the right to tell you what you
should think or do. My responsibility is to myself, and so I should emphasize statements that use “I”:
 I have a belief that you are not committed to our agreement
 I feel angry
 I want our meeting rescheduled by this Friday
 I ask, that in the future, you call my office number if you are going to be late.

Steps In The Process:

1. Center yourself. Before engaging in the conversation, breathe, gather yourself and center. The
intention is not to avoid the churning one may be feeling, but to harness its energy so it can be
resolved. Give yourself permission to experience fully, without judgment, without the need to be
reasonable or fair. Consider the times where you behaved like the other person. This helps to
dissolve the “righteous edge” of the communication. This enables engaging empathy and
compassion as a complement to, but not a diffuser of, your anger. Look for the concrete events that
fuel your anger. Consider what is really important to you. Ask yourself what your desired outcome
from this process would be in terms of the task, the relationship, and self.

2. Set the context with your partner. This sets the tone for all else. Define the direction and
boundaries of the conversation you want to have.
I have a lot of thoughts and emotions about the missed meeting. I want to resolve the situation so
I can deal with the issues and not stay stuck in resentment or angry feelings. I want to focus on what
happened today, and tell you how I feel about it and what I want next. Are you willing to hear me out
on this? Is this a good time for you?

3. Make concrete observations of what happened. Make factual statements about the breakdown.
These need to be facts, not assessments. The intent is to make statements on which both parties agree,
providing common ground for the next steps.

4. State any assessments you have about the breakdown. “I” statements here in particular, since
assessments are non-factual, subjective interpretations of the speaker. This ownership of the opinions
must be acknowledged. (I can’t know what the other person was thinking or what their motivations
were at the time) I can only state what I am making assumptions about.

5. Engage in productive conversation. Use advocacy. Share your reasons for your assessments.
Describe your concerns and assumptions. Remember the issue is not to present a case to “win” an
argument. It is to display your thought process so the other person can understand your position. (An
option is no dialogue at this point). You can be specific with the other person that you want to
understand her/his position later, but that now you want to complete your statement (next 3 steps)

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6. State your feelings about the breakdown, using “I” statements. This is where you give a damage
report about how you were affected emotionally. This is a critical step, requiring a clear
understanding about what is appropriate to declare and what is not. Be mindful of the distinction
between feelings and assessments mentioned on the previous page. Declare your emotions directly
and take ownership of them. It is disempowering to say, “That makes me feel angry” or “You make
me feel angry.” This shifts the responsibility and blame onto the breakdown or the other person. You
are responsible for your emotions. Taking this responsibility and ownership amounts to recognizing
your choice in how to respond to the situation.

7. State your aspirations about the situation. At this point you are asking for what you hope will result
in the bigger picture, but are not yet making a specific request. This is a bridge between declaring
your emotions and asking for what you want which is in the next step. “I really want to get us back
on track with working effectively together.”

8. Make a request. This is the beginning of a commitment conversation. It is only now that the other
person should speak, unless you have agreed to a dialogue in step five.

Responding to Unskillful Responses

Be alert to unskillful moves by the other person. These are (unconscious) countermoves that can through
you off balance and deflect the focus of the interaction. A response from the other person like “You are
overreacting” or “ You shouldn’t feel angry at such a little thing” are examples. The other person has the
right to say whatever s/he chooses, but you also have the right to challenge the usefulness or significance
of such statements. An appropriate response from you might be: “You are entitled to your opinion. I
differ from you and do not believe I am overreacting and I would like a response to my request” This
prevents the conversation from being deflected to an issue of your overreacting, and keeps it on your
intention.. a response to your request.

The unproductive countermoves by the other person can be predicted. When this happens, it is your job
to keep clear about intent, about your own position in the face of the countermove. It is not your job to
prevent it from happening or to tell the other person that s/he should not be reacting in that way.

Short Form... After Centering and Establishing the Context:

1. When I observe you doing “A”


2. I assess or interpret “B”
3. I feel “C”
4. What I want in this situation is “D”
5. So my request of you is “E”

Separation Anxiety... Fear Of Jeopardizing the Relationship

This fear needs to be confronted as I make my differences known and encourage you to do so as well. It
may be a realistic fear as a result of my taking a strong position. More often, it is an old fear instilled in
childhood about being abandoned if I make important people upset with me. It can prevent me from
using my anger productively, and as a result, lose my own sense of self. “Stuffing” anger, and avoiding
the conflict can produce ongoing resentment and the loss of a productive relationship anyway. I need to
care enough about myself, the issue, or our relationship to let you know what I feel and want.
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Reactions - Rackets - Rubber Bands


(Three Classes of Feelings)

This way of considering differences in emotions comes from concepts of Transactional Analysis. It is
useful to consider three very different “kinds” of emotions or feelings. Each is strongly felt, and is even
experienced in the same way. However, their source, and their consequences are very different. Having a
way to understand these differences will assist one to make choices in dealing with their consequences.

1. Reactions, in the context of a discussion of feelings, are true emotional responses to a situation
experienced in the present or near past.

My spouse dies, and I feel great sadness at the time, and for a number of months following the event.
Most people would say this was a reasonable and even useful reaction to such a dramatic change in my
life environment. However, what if three years later I was still moping around in my life... still
grieving... still talking about how awful it is to have lost a loved one. This is less of a real response to an
event. I am feeling sad, but am now indulging in a racket. At some point, a true feeling of grief, is no
longer a reaction. The feeling is being held on to for some other purpose. This is a racket.

2. A Racket, is a feeling that is held on to... indulged in, for the purpose of accomplishing some,
albeit unconscious, objective.

The ever-present sadness can serve the purpose of eliciting sympathy from others. It can be serving the
purpose of enabling me to avoid having to take the risk of developing new relationships. It may have
been a real feeling, a reaction, at some point in the past, but no longer. It is in this sense it is a “crooked”
use of the feeling... like a scam. Like engaging in racketeering.

A person’s racket, can often be identified as the “favorite bad feeling”. It is one that as a child, seemed to
produce desirable results in terms of getting or avoiding something from our parents. It is a “favorite”
feeling in that it is soooo.. familiar. And it is really not a feeling at all, but an assessment that has
become attached to a feeling. It is a learned response. Examples of common rackets include:
 I am feeling so unloved and/or unappreciated ...(sadness)
 I am feeling so misunderstood... (anger)
 I am feeling so helpless and confused... (fear)
 I am feeling so frustrated.. (anger)

At some time in the past, displaying and articulating such a “bogus feeling” produced a response that
seemed comforting.
 If I look sad, say you don’t really love me, and sniff my nose, Mom or Dad will quit expecting
me to be accountable. I’ll get a hug and the subject will change.
 If I appear flustered and clumsy, Dad or brother will change the tire for me.
 If I act incompetent and unsure, I won’t threaten you, and you won’t get upset with me.

Rackets are frequent and common in adult life, even though they originated years and years ago. At that
time they were functional for getting me what I wanted or thought I needed. Chances are they still exist.

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When you recognize an old familiar bad feeling... a repetitive pattern of thoughts and feelings that seems
to be hard to shake, you may have found a racket. Ask yourself... is this a reasonable and useful
response to something that just happened? What purpose is this behavior and feeling of mine serving.?
Is it getting me what I want? What is the effect it seems to be having on those around me? In other
words to consciously THINK about it, not just indulge in the feeling.

3. Rubber Bands are “real feelings” that are triggered by an event or stimulus that was associated
with a true reaction of the past.

The emotion is quite literally felt. It is as if the event were being re-experienced. However, like a
reaction and unlike a racket, this feeling passes rather quickly. It is not held on to or created. Examples:
I attend the funeral of someone I hardly know, and re-experience the grief I felt at loosing my
spouse three years ago.
I hear the sound of a fighter plane’s after-burners, and for a second experience the fear of a combat
mission even though I am in Saint Louis.
I smell the odor of kerosene, and for a moment it is like being 5 years old on a joyful camping trip
with my grandfather.

Substitute Feelings.....

Another aspect of understanding my feelings includes being aware of how one feeling can
be unconsciously “substituted” for another. Again, this pattern is developed in early years.
Substitute feelings are closely associated with rackets. They were adopted as a way to get
or to avoid something. For instance, in our society, it is very common for little boys to
grow up substituting anger for fear. A fearful little boy is one to be ashamed of:

Dad is in the garage working on a flower box. Little Bobby is watching him intently. (learning about
what it means to be a man). Dad hits his thumb with a hammer. He feels pain. For a millisecond he
thinks he may have badly damaged the use of his hand (fear). What does he do? Curses, throws the
hammer, and stomps around the garage shouting about the quality of hammers these days. (anger).
He has shown little Bobby how men are supposed to act instead of being afraid (legitimate
reaction)l. Being afraid is Not-OK. Being angry is.

Next week, little Bobby is ridding his tricycle, hits a rut, and falls over on his knees. It hurts. He
doesn’t know he isn’t going to bleed to death. He doesn’t know that his pants can be replaced and
that his knees won’t always look and feel like that. So he cries. He is afraid. Dad comes out of the
garage, and tells him... “Stop that, Big boys don’t cry. What’s the matter with you?” Dad has now
really cemented in that this feeling is to be avoided. It won’t get me comfort. It gets me ridicule.
And Bobby, makes a decision, at 3 years old, that whenever I am afraid, it is more acceptable to
substitute anger instead.... Anger is acceptable around this house. At 35, Bobby is throwing
hammers. When under pressure he is berating employees who aren’t compliant.

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In our society, it is common for little girls to grow up substituting fear, sadness or helplessness for anger.
In many households, a very angry little girl is something that no one knows how or wants to deal with.
Mom is preparing a special dinner. Little Julie is in the kitchen watching her intently. (learning
about what it means to be a woman). The dinner hour comes and goes, with still no word from Dad.
The dinner is ruined at worst, stone cold at best. Mom is sulking. Dad walks in two hours late with
“Oh yeah, but I got held up at work.” Mom breaks into tears and sobs “What am I doing wrong?”
She has shown little Julie what a woman is supposed to do( in this house) instead of being angry (the
legitimate reaction.) Being angry is Not-OK. (she might get hit). Being sad and frightened is.

Next week, little Julie is anxiously waiting for Mom to take her to the Zoo as promised. Mom comes
into her room and says “I really don’t feel like going today Julie, they say it might rain and I just
had my hair done this morning.” Julie stomps her little feet and says “That’s not fair, you
promised.. I don’t like you”. Mom responds... “Don't you dare talk to me like that young lady.. I
won’t have you acting like that.” Julie runs to her room sobbing. Mom follows her, picks her up
and says.. “There, there, it will be all right.. I know you didn’t mean to talk to me that way.” And
Julie makes a decision, at 3 years old that whenever I am experiencing anger, I had better quickly
substitute sadness or fear instead. At 35, Julie is sulking and feeling bad whenever one of her co-
workers discount her ability or breaks a commitment.

A clue to identifying substitute feelings is to notice when I find myself puzzled. Why am I feeling this
way? I can’t seem to get to the bottom of the problem here. For example... I frequently found myself
feeling angry during meetings with upper level managers. I found myself fussing and sputtering (in my
head) about their behavior or how I was being responded to. I knew this wasn’t helpful and I worked to
identify the source but could not. Then I considered the possibility of the anger being a substitute feeling
for me. Now.. if in the same situation I ask myself... what is going on here that might really be
frightening to me... Might this be the real feeling? Is fear the real feeling in this situation ? (since I have
concluded that anger is not) I can now usually identify a real feeling, a true reaction, and can then check
out the reasonableness of any assessments. As in.. I am being ignored and I am afraid it is because I
haven’t been effective with my interventions. I am afraid I’ll not be valued, won’t be asked back, lose my
job, my family will starve.... Is any of this realistic? Not really. I can thus solve the “problem” of the
feeling by seeing that it is exaggerated, and not appropriate.

Not being aware of patterns of rackets and substitute feelings can produce exactly what one is trying to
avoid. The following structure is helpful for diagnosing this kind of issue:

Fill in the blanks for your own situation where you seem to be stuck in getting what you want:

1. I am afraid, Example:
2. That if I ... (insert the avoided feeling or action) Speak up and ask for what I want
3. Instead of ...(insert the racket or substitute feeling) Looking forlorn and waiting to be asked
4. I will be.... (insert the response to be avoided) Judged pushy and not get what I want
5. Instead of.... (insert the desirable response) Seen as confident and clear thinking
6. So I .... (same as #3) Look forlorn and wait to be asked
7. And the result is... (same as #4) I am not valued and don’t get what I want.

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Unconscious Discounting Of People and Issues

A Major Cause Of Low Trust, Poor Teams, Poor Meetings &


Poor Relationships

DISCOUNTS ARE NORMAL WAYS OF EXHIBITING RESISTANCE.. OF PROTECTING


MYSELF FROM HAVING TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE, ISSUES, OR DATA OVERLOAD

A DISCOUNT: "When I discount, I believe, or act as if I believe, that what I think about an issue
or an idea is more important, more useful, or more "correct" than what you think about that issue or
idea. As in: I interrupt you, I don’t answer your question, I change the subject, I ignore you.

In addition to discounting people, discounting can also apply to problems or issues. They can occur
at three levels of intensity.... treating issues, (or people) as if they ... don't exist, aren't important, or
can't be changed

To not discount doesn’t mean I can't disagree.. discounting is when I in effect "put down" others as
individuals, or the ideas they are putting forth. I may do this overtly, or just “in my own head.”

Discounting tends to occur when an individual is operating from a “knower” position, rather than
that of a “learner.”

Although usually unintentionally and unconsciously done, discounting is a barrier to the


development of trust among individuals. One discount tends to invite others and people take
defensive positions with one another.

This is a problem in the business environment because....

It ALWAYS feels bad to be discounted... people do react.. they don’t feel “safe” to risk.
1. it at least "shuts people down"... and discourages additional useful dialogue
2. it often invites more discounting in response... leading to get-nowhere discussions
3. it hurts, alienates, and distances individuals... and prevents the development of respect & trust
4. it destroys trust and risk-taking... and invites defensiveness and maneuvering
5. it gets people off the subject.... and makes problem solving a nightmare
6. it enables people to maintain their old beliefs and values... (don’t have to do any NEW
thinking)

Discounting is not using DATA relevant to the situation and that means reduced performance.
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HOW DOES DISCOUNTING HAPPEN? .. Some Examples:

AROUND PROBLEMS / ISSUES AROUND PEOPLE

DISCOUNT THE EXISTENCE DISCOUNT THE EXISTENCE


As if it doesn't exist As if he/she doesn't exist
"I didn't notice " I don't answer the question
"No one told me" I fail to acknowledge another’s
presence
“That can’t be true” I don't inform, involve, or invite...

DISCOUNT THE SIGNIFICANCE DISCOUNT THE SIGNIFICANCE


As if it is not important As if he/she doesn't count
"Not that big of a deal" I don’t ask her opinion...
"We don't have the luxury of...." I interrupt others at will....
“That’s not a problem for me..” I don’t pay attention to what is said..

DISCOUNT THE SOLVABILITY DISCOUNT THE CHANGEABILITY


As if it can't be solved As if he/she can't change
"You just can't..." "They won't be able...."
"It wouldn't work.." "He won't like...."
"We tried that once..." "She can't take it..."
“We are victims...” “ In this company we never…”

DISCOUNTS ARE NORMAL WAYS OF EXHIBITING RESISTANCE.. OF PROTECTING


MYSELF FROM HAVING TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE, ISSUES, OR DATA OVERLOAD

It is important to try to avoid them and helpful to confront them when you see them.

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