Friday, December 14, 2018
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Defensive Routines

Defensive Routines

Designed error and Double Loop Learning (DLL). Psychodynamic routines that inhibit the feelings of embarrassment or threat are known within the lexicon of DLL, as defensive routines. The inhibiting effect of defensive routines also inhibits learning how to work with the surfacing and meaning of difficult feelings. The essence of most control strategies is the successful deployment of defensive routines, which bring the mixed blessing of the feeling of stability and continuity at the expense of learning and growth through the productive encounter of our fellows. Although individuals carry defensive routines, they manifest in relationships, one to one, group, and inter-group and at the level of organisation culture. Defensive routines by their nature inhibit learning in exchange for stability and continuity, which means there is a predictable logic to them.

1. Communicate a clearly ambiguous/inconsistent message
2. Act as if this is not the case
3. Make the ambiguity and inconsistency un-discussable
4. Make the fact of the un-discussability of the inconsistency also un-discussable.

To elaborate on these points.

1. Communicate a clearly ambiguous/inconsistent message. For example, ?Be innovative and take risks, but be careful and make them well judged.? This message, when converted to meaning by the listener, says in effect, ?Take action, but do not overstep the mark.? Where the mark is, is rarely specified. The ambiguous/inconsistent message covers the speaker who cannot know ahead of time what is an acceptable risk. The listener on the other hand, clearly understands the corporate purpose of such a message. Moreover, s/he knows that a request for clarification, in some cultures, could be interpreted as a sign of inexperience or aggression. Further, the listener may have an investment in maintaining the ambiguity and inconsistency (to maintain their own comfort zone) and wish to avoid specificity as much as the speaker does.

2. Act as if this is not the case. The above is an example of a mixed message; they are usually given spontaneously without indication in the body language of the speaker that the message is indeed mixed. Indeed, if the speaker hesitates, this will undermine the control strategy that underlies such messages. It may be interpreted as weakness or indecisiveness.

3. Make the ambiguity and inconsistency un-discussable. The whole point of sending a mixed message is to avoid dealing with a situation straight on that may compromise a negotiating position or may invite critical comment. The speaker relies on the listener to collude with the speaker by appearing to accept what is being said at face value. The speaker does not want the ambiguity exposed. I have not met many executives who ask, ?Do you find my message ambiguous and inconsistent?? The natural and authoritive way that most mixed messages are delivered creates a dilemma for the listener. Do they seek to clarify their own understanding, and by so doing challenge the motive of the speaker or attract judgements of immaturity.

4. Make the fact of the un-discussability of the inconsistency also un-discussable. One of the best ways of delivering such a message is in a setting or through a medium that does not make open enquiry appropriate. Frequently, the setting chosen is a meeting where inequality of status is a given and well understood by the participants. In such contexts the speaker is usually the formal leader and it is rare for the speaker to reflect on their actions or discuss the organisation culture which such meetings express. (see ?Microcultures? in the section on Team Dynamics). This leads directly to the phenomenon of a corporate dead zone, in which certain topics are known to be undiscussable, and that the very un-discussabilty is un-discussable.

This social phenomenon leads directly to misunderstanding which may lead to actions that undermine the very commercial benefit that is claimed as their justification. In this way, defensive routines when enacted as a result of defensive reasoning, directly create designed errors. Turf battles, poor governance, poor performance, sub-optimal projects, cost reduction programmes that put up cost, all these are indicators of this phenomenon. All companies have some of these features and prosper, frictional difficulty caused may be tolerated. When change is needed to the prevailing culture, these phenomena become structural, and a real impediment to the change process.