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Espoused Vs. In-Use

July 15, 2012 6 comments

Although we say we value openness, honesty, integrity, respect, and caring, we act in ways that undercut these values. For example, rather than being open and honest, we say one thing in public and another in private—and pretend that this is the rational thing to do. We then deny we are doing this and cover up our denial. – Chris Argyris

Guys like Chris Argyris, Russell Ackoff, and W. E. Deming have been virtually ignored over the years by the guild of professional management because of their in your face style. The potentates in the head shed don’t want to hear that they and their hand picked superstars are the main forces holding their borgs in the dark ages while the 2nd law of thermodynamics relentlessly chips away at the cozy environment that envelopes their (not-so) firm.

Chris Argyris’s theory of behavior in an organizational setting is based on two conflicting mental models of action:

  • Model I: The objectives of this theory of action are to: (1) be in unilateral control; (2) win and do not lose; (3) suppress negative feelings; and (4) behave rationally.
  • Model II:  The objectives of this theory of action are to: (1) seek valid (testable) information; (2) create informed choice; and (3) monitor vigilantly to detect and correct error.

The purpose of Model I is to protect and defend the fabricated “self” against fundamental, disruptive change. The patterns of behavior invoked by model I are used by people to protect themselves against threats to their self-esteem and confidence and to protect groups, intergroups, and organizations to which they belong against fundamental, disruptive change. D’oh!

From over 10,000 empirical cases collected over decades of study, Mr. Argyris has discovered that most people (at all levels in an org) espouse Model II guidance while their daily theory in-use is driven by Model I. The tool he uses to expose this espoused vs. in-use model discrepancy is the left-hand-column/right-hand-column method, which goes something like this:

  1. In a sentence or two identify a problem that you believe is crucial and that you would like to solve in more productive ways than you have hitherto been able to produce.
  2. Assume that you are free to interact with the individuals involved in the problem in ways that you believe are necessary if progress is to be made. What would you say or do with the individuals involved in ways that you believe would begin to lead to progress. In the right hand column write what you said (or would say if the session is in the future). Write the conversation in the form of a play.
  3. In the left-hand column write whatever feelings and thoughts you had while you were speaking that you did not express. You do not have to explain why you did not make the feelings and thoughts public.

What follows is an example case titled “Submerging The Primary Issue” from Chris’s book, “Organizational Traps:Leadership, Culture, Organizational Design“. A superior (S) wrote it in regard to his relationship with a subordinate (O) regarding O’s performance.

The primary issue in the superior’s mind, never directly spoken in the dialog, is his perception that the subordinate lacks a sense of responsibility. The issue that *did* end up being discussed was a technical one. (I’d love to see the same case as written by the subordinate. I’d also like to see the case re-written by the superior in a non-supervised environment.)

When Mr. Argyris pointed out the discrepancy between the left and right side themes to the case writer and 1000s of other study participants, they said they didn’t speak their true thoughts out of a concern for others. They did not want to embarrass or make others defensive. Their intention was to show respect and caring.

So, are the reasons given for speaking one way while thinking a different way legitimately altruistic, or are they simply camouflage for the desire to maintain unilateral control and “win“? The evidence Chris Argyris has amassed over the years indicates the latter. But hey, those are traits that lead to the upper echelons in corpoland, no?

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