A call for the lost art of confrontation as an effective process design tool

In my job as a business analyst, whenever a system change in our software was needed, I would spar with my college. We would each take one position of what we thought what was the best solution. Often we would take opposite positions, although sometimes we did not even believe them. The goal was to argue the best way as we could in order to eventually build a better system. This could become passionate at times. We could say: ‘you are out of your mind to think that your solution can work!’ This approach worked very effectively. By scrubbing away superficial politeness we were able to go to the heart of the matter. After such a confrontation we would have a full understanding of the process and we would bury the hatched. It never became personal, because we were working together towards a higher goal. One would have a thesis, the other an antithesis and together we would come to a synthesis.

This way of working had a lot of benefits. For example, you were allowed to reload as often as you could! With this I mean, you could have an incorrect assumption or idea, but you could then just pose a new objection as often as you could. Another great thing was that you could be passionate. Because the business always came first, you say everything what came from your guts, heart and mind and still nobody became offended. It didn’t matter who was right or wrong, the best result for the business mattered.

In order to be able to work like this, it helped that in my job as a business analyst the subject at hand was objective. You could have long discussions, but in the end there were objectively better solutions. It also worked well because the discussions were process related instead of outcome related. We didn’t care if the car was green, red or yellow: as long as the engine of the car was solid. And from a personal angle it was good that we were equal and not overly sensitive.

This is where I think that political correctness does not work. Without opposition, there is no deeper understanding or progress. There is a thesis and an antithesis, but no synthesis, There is just a stalemate. I would like to see these confrontational and passionate debates return in our social discourse. I do not care what you think. As long as we can discuss with each other we can come to solutions. I can think that you are wrong, but I will not dismiss you as sexist, extremist, not emphatic, ect. When we believe that we are all working towards one higher goal then we can work things out together irrespective of our differences. Then we can still be passionate and make mistakes, but we would eventually be able to come to a deeper understanding together.

Unfortunately, those days seem to be gone at my job. By college has become my boss. And although we were able to keep this way of working for some times (and still do from time to time), he had to pull ranks on me a couple of times. Because there was no equality anymore the delicate balance of thesis, antithesis and synthesis was gone. My boss pulling ranks meant making decisions before the natural process came to an end. Another thing was that he would discuss certain process changes with other people instead of with me. This disrupted the trust and respect of the relationship. Finally, his role as a manager meant that we needed to be professional. I was no longer able to say everything to my boss. I have received some remarks on my personal record for being too passionate and rude. As a result our workplace has become more professional and less passionate. And, I dare to say, the quality of our software solutions has decreased because of this.

The illusion of aid – A modern day Parable of the Good Samaritan

You know what really grinds my gears? That stuff is only real when you are able to articulate it rationally and without emotion.

Do you have any idea how difficult this is for us guys? And to remain masculine as well?

Talking about impossible standards for men. At least women can go to the gym and be in shape after a couple of months. Plastic surgery. We men need to reprogram thousands of years of evolution. Start articulating clearly and rationally what lies deeply buried within our souls. Without any noteworthy help whatsoever. It has cost me many years to figure this stuff out for myself without coaching or the like.

‘Ah, you had all these problems, all this time, why didn’t you say so? We could have helped you.’

People don’t have a clue how cruel this statement is. It is like telling a cripple man: ‘why didn’t you just walked over to us? We have a lovely well here. And all kind of facilities. We could have given you crutches’.  Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t need any crutches any more. I have painstakingly learned to walk by myself.

Sometimes I get so frustrated from not being able to express myself normally, that I express myself in a negative and hurtful way. I have learned to translate this as passion to myself. But at the company I work for, they call it not professional. ‘You cannot say these things like that’. Although the issues I address are real, after an outburst from my side, the issues themselves have become void. And I get a notification on my file.  A file which I have never seen in my life. Over the years, I bet it has a couple of ‘incidents’ like these in it. Cries for help, I would call them. These incidents in my file are used in order to block a promotion or reduce my bonus. Instead, I hoped that they would be used as an indicator to have a conversation with me. ‘What is wrong? Why did you act like that? Are there any things we can do?’ Now I get: ‘You should not behave in that way’. Why doesn’t it occur to the people who are responsible for my professional wellbeing that I am in pain and I am not able to solve these issues myself?

I am crawling towards the water well and I cry out from thirst. ‘Don’t cry out like that, Sebastiaan! This is not professional.’ I am suffering and because I am not able to express myself professionally and constructively. Yet there is no one to help me.

Why do I need managers and HR if they don’t help me at all? What is their role in this game? It reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. My manager and HR’s role is to make sure that I am helped whenever I fall down. But they just seem to walk by. ‘Please fill in this form. Please state exactly what your problem is.’ As if I could exactly describe my painful process of losing my passion at my work. Anyway, after a long process, I slowly learned to be my own Good Samaritan. But, when I get up and look around I am sad to see that the place is filled with people with the similar issues.

grinds my gears rational issues.jpg

De prijs van het taboo op slecht presteren

Bij ons bedrijf is in Londen een IT manager weg gestuurd. Deze man functioneerde totaal niet. Deze man was zo autoritair en zo een controlfreak dat zijn bijnaam Napoleon was. Nu is deze man weg en gaat hij waarschijnlijk weer bij eenzelfde bedrijf aan de slag (op basis van zijn CV). En op basis van zijn gedrag uit het verleden, zal hij waarschijnlijk weer hetzelfde gedrag vertonen. Gevolg: weer veel schade bij het nieuwe bedrijf en vooral bij de mensen onder hem.

Nu is het in het bedrijfsleven not done om publiekelijk te maken dat iemand niet functioneert. Wanneer iemand weg gaat bij een bedrijf worden dingen gezegd als ‘in mutual agreement’. Dit om de persoon in kwestie een nieuwe kans cq. schone lei te geven. In mijn carriere heb ik echter best veel van dit soort destructieve personen voorbij zien komen die het leven van tientallen mensen flink zuur hebben gemaakt.

Ik vind het onzin dat er niet mag worden gesproken over het slechte functioneren van mensen. Ik vind dat het belang van een groep / gemeenschap groter moet wegen dan het belang van een individu. De katholieke kerk had een vergelijkbare houding met betrekking tot pastoors die kinderen misbruikten. Onder de pet houden en overplaatsen die hap. Maar ondertussen zijn er wel vele kinderen het slachtoffier geworden. Vandaag de dag spreekt men er schande van dat de kerken zo lang deze misstanden hebben verdoezeld.

Hopelijk krijgen we in de toekomst eenzelfde behandeling van slechte managers. Iedereen is tegenwoordig lid van dezelfde community LinkedIn genaamd. Misschien kunnen we dan via LinkedIn gaan delen hoe mensen echt presteren? Dan zou zo iemand gedwongen worden om aan zichzelf te werken, in plaats van hetzelfde gedrag voort te zetten op een andere plek. Maar dan moet wel eerst het taboo van slechte feedback van medewerkers worden opgeheven.