Benjamin Mitchell asked for my thoughts on this article at the start of the month. I’ve finally had some time to read it so I thought I’d share my thoughts. It’s much easier to blog about it than to tweet it. Mitchell is a big proponent of Arygris’ work and a lot of what Mitchell talks about resonates a lot about with my own observations in the world.
This very old article, published in 1994, still holds relevance to today’s organisations and managements. I think, if anything, it’s even more relevant as organisations look to adopt agile methods and thinking to help improve responsiveness. Argyris links back stories and observations back to some of the ideas he is well known for including the difference between single loop and double loop learning and theory in use versus theory in action (what you say versus what you really do).
What stood out for me was Argyris’ interpretation of “good communication”. He uses plenty of examples where managers focus on the “positive” to the detriment of covering over their own opinions and what they really think. These examples naturally fuel his arguments between unsustainable change and how these very actions prevent people from accomplishing any learning. For me I find it fascinating his association with “good communication” meaning communication that solely focuses on “positive” emotions.
When I think of “good communication”, I more think of effective communication. For me, this is more of the idea behind the interests-based negotiation talked about in the book Getting to Yes, or the ability to really talk about the matters that really matter like in the books, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations. Lying, or hiding what you think is not what I’d call effective, or good, communication.
I still think that Argyris’ article has value and relevance for today. I see many of the examples of behaviours he writes about in managers trying to flex authority in order to empower people. I liked his description of a CEO “lending power” to people instead of trying to question why the system prevents people from taking action on their own. My only issue with the article is that he’s examples do not resonate strongly for me for demonstrating good communication.