I think that sometimes I’m very defensive in my reasoning, and I think this is a kind of scale; one can learn to do this less and one can do it more – it’s not a black and white I’m-a-defensive-reasoner-or-I’m-not type situation. When I didn’t get that internship I applied for, I blame it on the fact that no one else in my specialisation was chosen, so it must’ve been the company rather than me or any fault with e.g. my CV. When I don’t get that A+ grade, I look to the lecturer’s style or “unfair” scaling. When something is connected wrong in a circuit project, I ask who did that? Rather than how could I have made sure that that didn’t happen? I’m quick to blame others, but I don’t believe that I blame others or myself for concrete decisions completely wrongly (blame can be partial) – an incorrect circuit design could have been my fault, and I was apologising for that to my team a few weeks ago. But I don’t pro-actively question how I could have contributed to something that was largely under another person’s control. (Or are both of these points my “espoused theory” rather than my “theory-in-use”? A rather confusing point). Argyris (1991) uses the example in that the manager hypothesises ways that he may have contributed in the professionals covering up their complaints – something that I would not have seen.
Argyris (1991) proposes that the cause of this defensive reasoning is a form of protection from a “fear of failure”, or even fearing the “fear of failure itself”. Academically, I have succeeded in most of my pursuits. This is largely because I don’t like the feeling of failure. This must be the root of the problem. So how does Argyris (1991) propose I “fix” this thus becoming a “productive reasoner”? He determines that a critical examination of my theory-in-use and its counterproductive consequences will do this. But if the fear itself is the problem, I’m uncertain as to what he thinks happens to this fear – does it recede? Do I eventually come to acknowledge that the feelings of blame, guilt and embarrassment are for the best, and thus diminish? That requires strength, and a determined belief in the productive effects.
Is this something that I’m going to commit to? Or is it just another reading? I guess if it’s just another reading, I haven’t really learnt anything at all. But I don’t believe that I can just read something and then expect myself to have improved from it; it is a conscious which must be continuously applied. I think I will commit to this now; not a light decision but also a moral decision because it means taking on individual responsibility and becoming a person closer to my ideals.
What would this look like?
It would look like energies directed to cross-examination of my decisions and the results of them. When I go for that “assessment centre” next week, if I don’t feel I do well – don’t blame the environment, or the assessors, or the other intimidating people there. Could I have prepared better? Could I have researched more or practiced my answers? If my team doesn’t do well this rollover, was it because I didn’t allocate resources (as CFO) efficiently to each department? Did I not communicate effectively?
And if these things are true, change will happen as long as I keep the “bigger picture” view and feel (eventually), instead of fear, strength that comes from knowing growth is happening.
Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Reflections, 4(2), 4--15