Tuesday 14 January 2014

The role of respect in Knowledge Management

Respect the opinions by Celestine Chua
Respect the opinions, a photo by Celestine Chua on Flickr.
I blogged recently about Cognitive Dissonance - the way that people, when faced with the dissonance between their view of themselves as being a smart human, and that fact that they have made a massive mistake, will generally to be defensive about the mistake.

"It wasn't really a mistake" - "Of course I didn't see the stop sign, it was in such a stupid place" - "The sun was in my eyes" - "Nobody told me it was wrong" - "He pushed me" - "I don;t see why I should say sorry, he started it" - "I'm not wrong, aliens really DO exist; the government is covering it all up"

People become even more defensive if they feel they are pressured.

The book I quoted ("Mistakes were made - but not by me") talks about what happens when friends and relatives confront elderly peop
le who are being scammed.

People tend to confront, to plead, "Can't you see the guy is a crook? Can't you see that you are being ripped off?"  But this doesn't work. As the book says
Anyone who understands dissonance knows why, Shouting "What were you thinking" will backfire because it means "Boy are you stupid." Such accusations cause already embarrassed victims to withdraw further into themselves and clam up, refusing to tell anyone else what they are doing.  
This dissonance-driven  "closing up" is overcome by respect and support. Before a victim of a scam will inch back from the precipice, they need to feel respected and supported - they need to be listened to uncritically.

This translates into the world of Knowledge Management as well.

Openness is a pre-requisite for effective knowledge capture and transfer, and defensiveness will destroy the process. It is part of the role of the facilitator to set the tone of openness, and you do that by encouraging an atmosphere of respect and support.

Take the lessons identification meetings for example - the Retrospects and After Action Reviews. You may be reviewing a project which was a disaster - a catalogue of terrible blunders - but the facilitator must respect the team. Maybe they made stupid mistakes, but that is not because they were stupid people, and the team must feel that you know this, and acknowledge this.

Be respectful, ask them what happened, find out what was going on that made them - the smart people that they are - make the decisions that they did.

Be uncritical.

Listen carefully.

And make sure that others are respectful as well.

I remember running one lessons capture meeting where we had invited some people from other projects to listen to the proceedings. Half way through, one of the visitors, unable to keep silent any longer, burst out with "What on earth led you to make that decision? What were you thinking?"

Instantly the metaphorical temperature in the room dropped below freezing, and the project team (who had been so open in exploring their mistakes) clammed up as the cognitive dissonance came roaring back into their brains. It took quite a while to get the trust and respect back into the room, so that we could continue.

That's your role as a facilitator - to recognise the atmosphere, and to set the climate of respect and support that allows the openness that we need.

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