Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Problems at Work? You Have An Ostrich Problem

In the past year a significant proportion of the things I have been asked to help with have been to resolve issues between parties where their relationships are in trouble. In the majority of cases, after some investigation and thought, most of these issues were found to be down to what I call "little niggles" which have resulted from a "moment". That "moment" could have been a conversations that didn't go well, a misunderstanding of the contractual relationship and in some cases, hearsay. The resulting relationship niggles are at best annoying but at their worst they can be very expensive, putting multi-million pound contracts at risk. 

Bill Kahn, organizational psychologist at Boston University's School of Management suggests that there is a sequence of events that leads up to these "niggles" which he calls the Ostrich Effect.

The basic sequence he proposes is this:

1. People have difficult moments with one another
2. Something about those moments makes them anxious
3. People avert their gazes from the source of their discomfort
4. They fasten instead upon compelling distractions that allow them to express emotions triggered by the difficult moments—but not have to deal with those emotions or moments
5. This sets in motion waves of counterfeit problems among people whose sources and solutions remain unknown
6. People then work on the wrong problems, which escalate and spread to involve others.

The sequence, claims Kahn, transforms ordinary problems into unsolvable ones.

I think this is a really interesting insight and in particular the "compelling distractions" idea. I'm testing this by using this structure to get the route causes of some of my client's issues.  Thus far it has proven useful and we have made some progress.  The next stage is to work out what to do about it?


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