Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Faking Know-How With Sloganeering

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made. — Julian Henry (Groucho) Marx

People often find it hard to admit they don’t know how to deal with a problem; especially, when a question about it is put to them publicly by a subordinate. After all, admitting ignorance might provoke disdain or insubordination. Or the situation might be seen to threaten humiliation, particularly by people who lack experience in cooperative dialogue.

What often happens in such situations is that the person being posed the problem produces an ambiguous response, full of sloganistic buzzwords that, practically, indicate no testable approach to solving it. Skill with such responses can be both a face-saver and an obstruction.

For example,
A teacher complains to her principal, “My students seldom come to class with homework done. How should I handle it?”

The principal replies, “You’ve got to lay down the law and make them understand the consequences of their failures to complete their assignments!”
Blah, blah, blah! Can this advice be followed to get the homework done? Not likely; what specific things is the teacher to do? However, this sloganeering does make the principal sound like the he is in charge and that he knows something.

What he might do instead is to turn the question back to the teacher; for example, by asking, "What do you think interferes with the kids getting their homework done? Have you asked them? Which impediments am I, as principal, in better position to deal with than you? Have you asked any of your more experienced colleagues how they would handle the situation?", and so on. If these questions were brought up in a non-threatening way, they might stimulate both a productive conversation and better principal-teacher relations.

For references, examples and to investigate this mode of response further, see Pseudo-Solutions: Three Disciplinary Slogans

--- EGR