Cognitive dissonance: Working with a fool is heaven

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

WITHOUT blowing my top, how could I work with a jerk to get things done better for the organization? It’s one basic question that many of us would like to avoid answering and yet it’s one powerful tool that helps identify many opportunities toward creativity. But why can’t we escape answering it?

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Simply because, the jerk that we’re referring to is a boss, if not a colleague with the same rank whom we can’t simply dismiss from our environment.

Therefore, the best approach is to meet the issue head-on as we take into consideration “cognitive dissonance”—a theory in social psychology that refers to the discomfort (anger, frustration, hatred, anxiety, etc.) we experience when we have a perpetual, conflicting views with others in any organization.

Cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger (1919-1989) in his book When Prophecy Fails (1956), is significant to understand the fact that unless you’re six feet under the ground, you can’t avoid having an encounter with difficult people. And more than anything, it’s one single key to innovation that allows you to shoot three birds with one stone:

One, you could attempt to mend your ways with a jerk. Two, you’ve no choice because he’s your boss or colleague in the organization. Three, the situation allows you to blame him later. Truly, you need a jerk because many things can go wrong that you can’t blame it all to our government leaders.

Jeffrey Liker and David Meier in The Toyota Way Fieldbook (2006) say, “We can change behavior, we can influence attitudes” by using cognitive dissonance. “The bottom line is that we’re more likely to change what people think by changing what they do, rather than changing what people do by changing what they think.”

For instance, “if we want people to understand and buy into the assumptions of lean manufacturing, let them experience it first-hand. Direct experience, with on-the-scene immediate coaching and feedback, will change behavior over time.”

What Liker and Meier are telling us is that change will not happen because of classroom teaching and book reading alone. You have to do it in real-life situation and at every opportunity.

Still, is it worthwhile working with a fool or any person you don’t like? Without blinking an eyelash, my answer would be in the affirmative. If not, hatred can make you blind and stupid. It could be a much more difficult challenge and time-consuming, but that’s the way it should be if you want to have powerful insights tested by a jerk or enemy, whichever comes first.

You don’t have to confront a jerk or an enemy to ask why he’s perpetually negative against you. That’s a childish approach. Instead, think of the easiest way and the one that you can control. The first thing that comes to my mind is the 5 Whys—a potent, but simple tool in problem-solving and decision-making.

Here’s one application that you can test with a friend who knows about your situation:

1. Why does this jerk always reject my ideas? He doesn’t want you to succeed.

2. Why doesn’t he want me to succeed? You’re a competitor in a promotion.

3. Why does he think I’m a competitor in a promotion? You’re a favorite of the boss.

4. Why does he think I’m the boss’ favorite? The boss consults you always.

5. Why is that jerk taking it against me? He is a rebel without a cause.

And so on. You can ask as many whys as possible as long as you’re not satisfied about the real cause of the problem. In the end, the answer may bring you to one conclusion that may not have something to do with you or your biased thinking.

Your analysis must be objective so that you can go beyond your perception, which could be wrong. Sometimes, analysis means the process of finding exactly one available wrench to hit the head of a required screw. The objective is to move from many unreliable answers to understand the real problem, so that you can make the solution obvious.

You may not realize it, but a wise foe that raises hell at every turn is still the best choice than a foolish friend who would normally agree to your every statement. But even without making a distinction between a fool and a foe, the Bible tells us—love our enemies and neighbors.

That’s because they are the same people that we meet every day.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused specialty. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook and Linked for his random management thoughts.

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