The British Museum Reading Room. A panorama of 2x5 segments. By Diliff. CC BY SA 3.0.

How You Talk About Deciding Affects Who Thinks You’re an Idiot

Forrest ChristianCareers, Decision-making, Warren Kinston 2 Comments

How you talk about work affects who will hire you or work with you.

I was reminded of this recently. I have been talking with some senior executives at work about how to build the structure for writing complex text responses for some of our forms. They reached out because I’m an expert in the responses’ topic and I’ve worked professionally in business writing, including with great success on similar forms. Kind of makes me a unicorn.

Yet, I’ve been slogging uphill as I try to sell them on a method I see as completely obvious: start with a full audience analysis. They don’t outright say “you’re wrong”, of course, but only just. Which is so frustrating, because I’m the most experienced person in the room, and I know this is right. How can this not be obvious!? What is the hold-up? Are they too thick-headed to see this?

Only when talking about a completely unrelated-to-work project that might (or might not) deal with Warren Kinston’s Taxonomy of the Human Element in Endeavours, that I realized the truth: I talk about business writing as a Imaginist and they don’t. I can talk until I’m blue in the face and it won’t make a wee bit of difference. They don’t talk that way about decision-taking and action at work.

(If you’re not familiar, take a spin through Warren Kinston’s framework for Deciding & Achieving at TH3EL, or you can read my much worse description of the Imaginist decision-taking style from several years back which predates him putting things online. I would go to the source rather than read some schmuck’s rehash, but you do you.)

Imaginists always start their decision-taking with “Who is involved?” Once you know the Who, then you can figure out the What. Each person is an individual, and we must address their particular wants, needs, and desires.

But that’s only one way of thinking about things. Let’s see how the other six decision-taking types would see this problem.

Unfortunately for me, the people I was talking with most likely lead with Empiricist decision-taking style. For the Empiricist, decision-taking starts with defining the problem. You collect data and information, then based on that make your decision.

I can’t even talk about the Empiricist method without pulling it into Imaginist talk. It feels completely insane.

Which is exactly what they think about how I make decisions, too.

Want to know why I’m not going to get traction? Take a look at this table which shows how Imaginists and Empiricists do the different phases of problem solving.

Phases of Decision and Action, Empiricist vs. Imaginist

1: StartNote a problem and reduce it to a manageable size.Express a felt disquiet; or realize that drive is missing.
2: ExploreUsing available information define the real problem in
terms of what is meaningful and resolvable.
Attune and focus to explore perceptions, feelings and worries of all those involved. Open up the imagination.
3: Develop PossibilitiesObtain facts relevant to the problem or surmised solutions
and pull out implications.
Incubate and play with images and any ideas that come.
4: ResolveRecognize the unique best solution and adopt it.Crystallize inspiration.
5: ReiterateTest the solution in a pilot version with full collection
of data.
Articulate vision; and envisage growth-enhancement.
6: ImplementPromulgate the solution and expect action.Enthuse and lead with charisma. Interact fully with mutual support.
7: ReviewControl process and record progressive results. Obtain
evidence whether the problem is solved.
Monitor self, and engage in mutual counseling. Look for fulfillment of the vision and deep satisfaction with action and its results.
8: Overcome FailureRevise protocol; or redefine the original problem.Mediate afresh on the vision to refine it; or re-explore the worry area.
Information comes from some earlier work by Kinston; you should go to the TH3EL website and search for Empircist, find the right framework, and think on it yourself.

No wonder they don’t think I know what I’m talking about!

Personally, I think that they are in over their heads with this particular problem set, as it is where it is today because of people. And they would say, yes, because the people involved have not spent the time decomposing the problem sufficiently to know what the real problem is. (We both will then shout, “That’s why they are solving the wrong problem!” and still completely disagree.)

There’s probably a lot of wisdom here, like “Don’t try to work in a field where your language of action is denigrated” and “Play to your winners” and even “You should try to think like they do, because they are clearly right.” (This last is soooooo close to what someone, in complete exasperation, shouted at me during a church class. Really. True story.)

Warren told me that our language of action is so powerful that it often feels like it’s running things, and we’re just obeying it’s dictates. That certainly feels true here: I don’t know how I can reconceptualize my ideas to be acceptable to an Empiricist. But if I want to make a difference here at this jobsite, I’ll have to figure out a way to do it.

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