Thursday, August 23, 2012

How judgement and blame are ineffective

Why do we tolerate judging and blame when we all know they are such toxic behaviors?

I recently came across a great model for thinking about how blame and judgement impact team behavior. The first chapter in Kevin Kennedy's new book "Devil in the Details" uses a four quadrant model to explain this as follows:

  • The horizontal axis is the spectrum driven by thought - how we think. On the right the positive aspects: thought driven by insight and learning; on the left the negative aspects: thought driven by blame and judgement. 
  • The vertical axis is the spectrum driven by emotion. At the top the positive: emotion is modulated in a predictable rhythm, measured and controlled; at the bottom the negative: drama reigns.

As you would expect, Quadrant 1 leads to the most useful behavior in most business situations. When we can remain calm and centered, neither judging nor blaming, nor being the victim, we can build trust and make forward progress. Everyone can be heard, facts are the basis for decisions, the team can move forward together.

When we judge other people on the team, blame them, or even play the tourist (Kevin has a whole chapter on the damage "tourists" do to teamwork) we experience dissonance. The team becomes divided, some judge, some feel judged and facts and clarity go out of the window.

And yet, judgement is common in technology. Maybe it's because engineers are taught critical thinking, taught to be black and white in their judgements and they get in the habit in all walks of life - they know they are smarter after all. Maybe it's because we are all emotional creatures (yes even engineers, although they can't always see it) and so we get out of practice of consciously checking our emotions at the door. Or maybe it's just a lack of personal discipline, the discipline of being always aware and present. Being, as Steven Feinberg says, neutral.

It's a simple model. The left hand side is simply never productive. When I can put myself to the right, (which I am sorry to say is not always), I am simply more effective. When I lead my team to be to the right, they can solve any problem.

Most of the time, I try to put myself in quadrant 1. But not always. As Kevin points out, sometimes as the leader you need to be in quadrant 2. Not often, but when you want to create a call-to-arms, you want to create intensity or to lead with emotion, then you consciously step into quadrant 2.

Either way, the important thing is to be conscious of which quadrant you are in, and to be deliberate if you need to move yourself, and your team, from quadrants 3 and 4 into quadrant 1.

Kevin Kennedy is CEO of Avaya. I've served on two public company boards with him, and learn from him in every meeting. His book is a terrific, practical guide to team leadership.

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