Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Four Riders: Blame, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling

Benjamin West - Death on a Pale Horse, 1817
In a post on the HBR Blog, Monique Valcour referred to a piece of work done by John Gottman, called the "A-BCDs", or "the four horsemen of the apocalypse"**.

I had not run across this before, but was quite struck by the idea of these four riders to help us keep conversations tracking well. Gottman outlines this as Avoiding the following behaviours in meetings: Blame, Contempt, Defensiveness, and stonewalling. What a quartet (quintet really, as avoid is counted).

The HBR "Management Tip of the Day" emailer contained this fraction of Monique's article, and it was so clear, I decided to record this so that I don't forget it. What HBR's mailer said was (8 November 2017):
  • Blame. Try not to make assumptions about what your colleague is thinking, and don’t make groundless accusations. Keep the conversation focused on facts.
  • Contempt. Acknowledge when you’ve lashed out in exasperation, and do your best to avoid making judgments.
  • Defensiveness. Take responsibility for your part in the conversation. Are you open to input, or do you interpret new ideas as criticism?
  • Stonewalling. Commit to listening and contributing with an open mind, instead of avoiding an unpleasant topic or refusing to participate fully in the conversation.
After reading this list, I felt that in my main education sector work, we tend to get stonewalled in meetings. Decisions have to be made so far up the food chain that we rarely know when something finally gets put in play. However, it also reassured me that the other behaviours don't tend to happen, and that is quite a cultural boost.

We can probably build some checks and balances around the stonewalling though, so we track progress. We have little influence over how long decisions take, but we can be the squeaky door which gets the most oil :-)

Let's mind our A-BCDs out there.


** should be gender neutral as "the four riders of the apocalypse" I feel. And yes, language does matter :-)

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