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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Archive for the ‘Questioning’ Category

The Stronger the Personal Feelings, the Less Likely Any Agreement Will Occur

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conflict

The primary barrier to mutual communication is a person’s natural tendency to judge and approve or disapprove of what is being said by another person. Judging takes place because people tend to evaluate what they hear from their own personal point of view and reference. These evaluations short-circuit their ability to objectively think through, reframe and analyze responses.

Leaders not only have to communicate their own thoughts, ideas, and messages clearly, but are often responsible for facilitating better communication between groups and individuals with divergent points of view. Leaders must understand that communication is heightened when personal feelings and emotions are deeply involved. One rule of thumb always applies: the stronger the personal feelings of the involved parties, the less likely any mutual agreement between the two.

This is because two ideas, two sets of personal feelings and two sets of judgments exist completely disconnected from each other. When these are not laid aside, nothing remotely resembling communication occurs.

This is a serious consideration for leaders, as they are often placed in situations where a complete lack of communication exists. They can find themselves in an environment where communication has completely broken down due to the highly-charged emotional content of both parties’ arguments. Without an understanding of the factors directly affecting communications, leaders will find themselves unable to facilitate useful exchanges and discussions; the communication that does take place will produce aggravation, conflict and frustration for all parties.

Healthy communication occurs, and personal evaluations are avoided, when leaders are able to listen with a genuine sense of interest and understanding. This is a direct result of seeing an expressed idea or attitude from the other party’s point of view and developing a sense of how the other person feels. This allows leaders to achieve a personal frame of reference linked directly to an individual’s thoughts, perceptions and interpretations. When a leader is able to develop this understanding, he or she is able to facilitate better communication, assuage the other person’s fears, and establish more realistic and harmonious relationships.

Leaders can effectively apply this technique in a difficult environment by requiring each party to clearly restate the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately to the speaker’s satisfaction. Only after this is accomplished does the second party state his or her viewpoint in response.

This should be done before anyone states their viewpoint or makes a response in a heated discussion, because it forces each party to pause and consider the other’s point of reference, helping the individual to identify what lies beneath the communicator’s thought process. This technique works because it immediately gives each party time to pause, think, analyze, evaluate, and remove the emotion from their statements.

This method requires an individual to achieve the other party’s frame of reference, so he or she can understand their thoughts and feelings well enough to summarize them accurately. This establishes real communication guaranteeing amicable solutions can be reached for two reasons. First, when understanding is achieved, it forces the other party to revise his or her own statements and thinking, to filter out emotions and subjectivity. Second, it reduces the differences between conflicting parties to reasonable disagreements that are both rational and understandable.

Leaders should know that complete understanding is often difficult to achieve because of the risks associated with challenging and altering one’s own thinking and views. Most are averse to this perceived threat.

Additionally, when emotions are at their peak, it is extremely difficult to achieve another’s frame of reference at the exact point when it is needed most to accurately interpret what is being said.

Leaders can easily overcome these barriers by assuming the role of neutral third party. In this capacity, they restate both individuals’ positions and points of reference to build clarity, introspection and understanding. This is an effective method for neutralizing potential miscommunication problems through active personal interaction. When individuals realize they are being understood clearly and accurately, and feel comfortable because their views are being mirrored, their statements grow less exaggerated and defensive.

Taking the position of a neutral third party allows leaders to handle any insincerities, exaggerations, lies and “false-fronts” that typically characterize communication breakdowns. This method leads to discovery of the truth and a realistic, objective appraisal of the barriers inhibiting two-way, interactive communication. The aim is to achieve “mutual” communication, focused on solving problems rather than attacking individual or group ideas, reasoning or appraisals.

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

Eight Ways to Improve Communication

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

The Challenge of Handling Conflict

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Communication Must Be Personalized To Be Effective

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womenspeaking

Effective leaders know that communication must be personalized to be effective. Each situation encountered in the workplace needs to be addressed at a level comfortable for everyone involved. Leaders must communicate messages and gain feedback with confidence and care. As such, in order to be effective at conveying their message, leaders must pay close attention to individual differences and situations that provide them with a specific context to communicate in.

Leaders must rely on communication to resolve issues that negatively impact the workplace environment and their leadership image. By using persuasion, consultation and empowerment, managers can effectively lead people and positively influence the work environment. In order to successfully present their thoughts and ideas to subordinates, it is important for leaders to fully utilize these three basic communication styles.

How and when leaders apply the styles depends upon the particular situation and the motivation for using them. The three styles are discussed below in more detail.

Persuasive Communication

Persuasive communication is the cornerstone of motivation and task accomplishment. Leaders who use this style are influential in fostering positive change in the workplace. Part of persuasion entails utilizing motivational comments like, “This is great. Let’s do it!” Persuasive communication is most effective in the following situations:

  • Leaders often look to gain a commitment or agreement from their employees. This style works effectively for introducing new ideas, altering performance, deviating from an ineffective course of action, or adapting to various changes in the workplace. Persuasive communication focuses on influencing others in a positive and exciting way.
  • Leaders may need to complete a task or assignment in a given time frame or with particular outcomes. Persuasive communication helps define the importance of a given task or situation. A leader’s effectiveness at attaining employee cooperation depends upon the excitement imbued in the message and its delivery.
  • When leaders want to encourage a higher level of trust from their employees, they deliver a series of persuasive messages and actions that reinforce employee confidence, abilities and involvement.

Consultative Communication

Consultative communication is effective for building and maintaining involvement. It cements employee loyalty in the leader. This style utilizes open-ended questions like, “What do you think needs to be done here?” Such questions unearth hidden issues and personal agendas. This style helps define the direction to take related to the following circumstances:

  • Sometimes there is a need to shift an employee’s thinking away from a particular idea. Consultative communication can also help redirect an employee who is doing something that is not productive.
  • Employees need to know they play a key role in determining a direction, course of action, or outcome. Consultative communication is primarily used to build trust. It is also effective when defining goals, objectives, performance standards or specific expectations.
  • Leaders often want to increase their employees’ participation. This style is effective for securing involvement in a task or assignment that may be intimidating because of either change or the employee’s uncertainty about the abilities or skills that they need to complete a task.

Empowering Communication

The empowering style is effective when leaders want employees to accept responsibility. Leaders utilizing this style tend to use phrases such as, “do as you see fit” and “make decisions you think need to be made” along with words such as, “effectively” and “efficiently.” This style is best used in the following situations:

  • Leaders require cooperative efforts. When situations necessitate the employee work with little direction to complete a task, this style can be used to cement their confidence and help them attain self-motivation. At the same time it helps equalize employee workloads and instills the desire in people to achieve or surpass expectations.
  • Leaders may need to delegate. In this situation, the empowering style is especially effective when combined with the consultative style. Used together, leaders don’t defer responsibility, but acquire commitment to their goals and tasks by fostering respect and harmony between themselves and their subordinates.
  • Leaders demand improved outcomes and standards from employees. The empowered style works to motivate, amplify efforts and multiply results. It is very effective at gaining trust and respect while motivating people to perform at higher levels.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on effective communication practices in the workplace to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series.Click here to learn more.

Related:

Focusing Your Employees on Common Goals

Eight Ways to Improve Communication

Ten Steps You Need to Take to Effectively Sell Your Ideas

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Four Concepts Define Key Leadership Responsibilities

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coaching

Managers learn the rules that define their basic responsibilities by responding to this question: “What’s wrong, and what specific steps do I need to take to fix it?” So, when senior management passes down mandates, timelines and goals, the manager’s job is to work within the prescribed corporate framework to produce results.

Leaders, on the other hand, self-direct, craft a vision, make plans, achieve goals, build cohesiveness and inspire others while holding themselves personally accountable for their area of the company. The question they respond to is: “What’s possible here, and who cares?”

A leader’s responsibilities are defined by a set of concepts and qualities that motivate people to “get on board” with his or her vision. In fact, there are four basic concepts that help leaders develop the creative energy needed to focus on everyone’s efforts, which guides all employees beyond routine thinking and performance.

Unlike a conventional manager, a leader’s responsibilities are not defined by one question. Generally, a leader’s central responsibility is to move his or her unit from a “mission impossible” to a “mission outcome” stance. This shift requires leaders to embrace multiple areas of skill and direction. To constantly move forward, they focus on specific concepts to help define their key leadership responsibilities.

Management and leadership responsibilities often overlap, but leadership is defined in a completely different context. Leaders’ responsibilities lie in four key areas: self-direction, goal achievement, flexibility and inspiring greatness in others. Leaders recognize that these responsibilities are taken care of through the four actions outlined below.

Related: Do You Have Faith in Your People?

Gain the Cooperation of Others

Establishing a cooperative spirit is the primary responsibility of leadership. This spirit drives an organization and its people to higher levels of productivity and accomplishment. For leaders to be effective they must build a cooperative effort by relying on the following techniques:

  • Leaders understand basic human needs and desires and nudge people in the right direction. They know how motivation works to everyone’s benefit.
  • They make emotional connections. An effective leader connects with people under their direction to build an interdependence that fosters more long-term gain than individual efforts would.
  • They acknowledge the need for followers.
  • Leaders understand their people. They take time to converse and ask questions that bring information, concerns, ideas and perspectives to the forefront. Then, they act positively upon them.

Listen and Learn Well

  • Leaders never forget where they have been, and use their experiences to shape where they are going, and why. They place learning and listening at the top of the list in terms of building skills and ability. Learning from past errors in judgment prevents their repetition.
  • They listen to everyone and everything. Leaders have their ears and eyes on every person, process and situation. They listen for ideas, impending concerns, problems, successes and unhappiness in their employees. They absorb everything and act on the knowledge gained to prevent major problems from occurring.
  • Leaders seize all opportunities to make people feel successful, competent and comfortable in the work environment. Excellent leaders are not reactive, but proactive by nature.

Put the Needs of Others First

  • Effective leaders separate themselves from the rest of the pack through self-sacrifice and by setting their egos aside. Good leaders are never afraid to work alongside their people to finish a project or resolve a situation.
  • Leaders are flexible, slowing down or speeding up while assessing their employees’ productivity and efforts.
  • Leaders understand that keeping tasks simple and obvious makes for a committed workforce. Employees desire to know precisely what is expected of them and how to complete their assigned tasks. A leader focuses on ways to make their assignments and projects more direct and clearly defined.

Performing Consistently

  • By understanding that people are different, leaders solidify mutual respect and communication, and maintain openness and fairness with every employee.
  • Leaders build cohesiveness through cooperative efforts by holding employees and themselves accountable. They know this is necessary to achieve their goals and ideals.
  • Effective leaders realize that their actions and words must not send mixed messages. Leaders should stay the course, even under duress or in the midst of adversity. They must remain genuine and use discretion in all judgments they make. Excellent leaders will reinforce their motivation, inspiration and expectations to maintain a strong leadership position.

Related:

The Roadmap to Effective Leadership

Do You Have the Talent to Execute Get Things Done?

Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader

The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Employing an Effective Feedback Process

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smallgroup12

For feedback to be useful and productive, coaching managers need to pay close attention to possible consequences that can occur once it has been provided. Constructive feedback tends to enhance employee relationships by generating higher levels of trust, honesty, and genuine concern for another person’s welfare, professional development and growth.

Feedback continually needs to be checked in order to determine its degree of agreement, which is referred to as “consensual validation.” This consensual validation is what tends to define feedback’s value to both the sender and receiver.

If the receiver of feedback is uncertain as to the giver’s motives or intent, the uncertainty itself constitutes feedback. This is why detailing the need for feedback should be revealed before multiple problems begin to occur. It is always important to check one’s feedback for message content, sequencing, structure, and factual data to ensure that clear communication is taking place. One way of doing this is to ask the receiver to rephrase the feedback. Remember, regardless of feedback intent, it still remains potentially threatening and is subject to a great deal of distortion or misinterpretation.

Predicting How the Feedback Receiver Will React Is Part of the Process

As a coaching manager it is important to be aware of various types of negative responses to feedback in order to react to them appropriately when they surface. Following specific guidelines for offering effective feedback can go a long way to limit many kinds of negative reactions to it, especially critical or necessary intervention types of criticism.

Managers as coaches can expect numerous employees (as well as themselves) to automatically react in a negative manner to what they feel is intimidating, hostile or threatening feedback. This reaction can take various forms, such as:

  • Doubting the giver’s intentions or motives
  • Selectively receiving or perceiving the feedback message in a biased manner according to how the person feels it is intended
  • Rejecting or contradicting the facts or validity of the data that is applied or used within the feedback
  • Reducing, lessening or diminishing the feedback’s impact
  • Arguing, criticizing or verbally attacking the individual that is offering the feedback

Steps for Receiving Feedback in a Positive Manner

The first step to receiving usable, reliable feedback is to solicit it. As part of the process make certain to:

  • Maintain your self-confidence and self-esteem when listening to feedback
  • Maintain good rapport with the individual giving the feedback
  • Apply active listening during the feedback discussion, such as paraphrasing and stating your understanding of what you are hearing
  • Make sure to summarize the information and data
  • Give a good example of how to effectively receive and accept feedback

Key Strategies to Help Give and Get Effective, Reliable Feedback

There are several key strategies that tend to enhance the productive feedback process:

Focus the discussion on the information needed. For example, when bringing a situation to the attention of an employee, begin the coaching process by saying something like: “Samantha, I’ve noticed in the past several weeks that you’ve fallen behind on keeping the project assignment schedule up-to-date. Let’s figure out what we both can do to get the scheduling process back on track.”

Always remember to apply open-ended questions as they work best to continually expand the discussion. Ask something like: “You have always done an exceptional job of maintaining the schedule correctly and up to the minute—until about two weeks ago. Why has there been such a change?”

Use closed-ended questions to prompt for specific responses, such as, “What other projects are you currently working on that are taking away valuable time from working on this project?” When taking this approach remember that closed-ended can end up disguised as open-ended inquiries, like: “Are you going to struggle or have a problem when it comes to the completion of this project?”

Promote ongoing dialogue through eye contact and positive facial expressions. The process involves nodding in agreement, raising the eyes, smiling, leaning forward more closely toward the other person, and making verbal statements in order to acknowledge that what is being said or stated, is heard.

State your understanding of what you are hearing by briefly paraphrasing what the other person is saying. After the key points have been summarized, try to get some agreement on the next steps. In addition, make certain to show appreciation for the effort made so far.

Best Practices for Offering Feedback

The following suggestions should be employed when offering feedback:

  • Make it a point to reveal and describe your own reactions or feelings as the feedback process progresses
  • Make certain to describe objective consequences that have or will occur
  • Stay clear of accusations
  • Focus on specific behavior the feedback is intended for, not the person
  • Make certain to present data to support your input
  • Be prepared to discuss additional alternatives
  • Rephrase comments to sound less intense, critical or insensitive
  • Take into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback
  • Make certain that feedback is directed toward a behavior or action that the receiver can do something about or has control over

Avoid These Feedback Pitfalls

When you find yourself receiving feedback, especially critical feedback, it is important to avoid the following pitfalls:

  • Becoming defensive and closed-minded.
  • Not checking for possible misunderstanding. Instead always use a paraphrasing technique that begins with something like, “Let me repeat what I am hearing you say…”
  • Failing to gather information from other sources. It is far more advantageous to get as much input as possible from others to weigh and analyze the initial feedback received.
  • Overreacting, since it closes down constructive discussion, and hinders trust building and fact verification.
  • Not asking for feedback message clarification. It is essential to ask the person what the intent is behind the feedback in the first place, as well as making certain that there is total understanding on your part.

Related:

Supporting Employees’ Need to Achieve Maximum Results

Should Accountability Be a Primary Priority?

Assessing Employee Growth and Development

Nine Rules for Coaching Your Employees

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

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problemsolving1

In employee led groups or in an individual context, individuals can begin to take over the responsibility of using questions to help foster a deeper understanding of material, information, key concepts or issues.

Through the use of questioning, employees engage in a social process that is fundamental to learning. Individual learning and self-development begin on the social plane, through interactions where employees think and respond with others who possess varied levels of knowledge. Employees should take an active role in exploring, finding and researching answers to their own questions.

Through self-inquiry based questioning, individuals develop questions that need to be answered and then research the answers to support their thinking and responses. Inquiry is not always a specific question, but can be simply a contemplation about something that needs to be investigated further. There is usually not one correct answer to meaningful questions of inquiry, but through the process, employees actually gain understanding, generate more questions to ponder, and find further issues to research. This technique helps provide a structure for looking through information and sorting out relevant from irrelevant facts, sources and data.

Within the process, it is important to eliminate incorrect information, confirm reliable information, and ask further questions about the meanings and implications of certain words and phrases. After the discussion, they review and confirm the accuracy of summarizations and understandings.

Questions have the ability to buttress comprehension. Their intended use is to make the sharing of new information a collaborative process, with shared responsibilities for ongoing discussions and conversations as well as problem solving outcomes.

Within the questioning process, it is essential for employees to invite questions that effectively probe for understanding. One effective method is to apply “why” types of questions that tend to redirect an individual’s attention. An example is, “Why are you sure that when you say ____ will happen, it will?” It is also important for employees to ask questions that model comprehension monitoring, “Does (this) or (that) make any sense to you?”

POSSE Questioning

POSSE questioning is an effective framework to guide employees to facilitate better comprehension, particularly when solving problems. POSSE stands for:

  • Predict (predict what will happen as a result of the problem);
  • Organize (organize knowledge and ideas into categories and details);
  • Search (read to identify key ideas and details of problem-related parts);
  • Summarize (identifying the main problem rather than its symptoms);
  • Evaluate (ask a question, compare, clarify and predict).

Within the POSSE framework, questioning tends to be embedded in the Predicting, Searching, and Evaluating stages of problem solving and is structured in a “Shared Inquiry Discussion” format that is designed to promote creative, thoughtful and critical thinking. As such, the leader continues to play a key role in the inquiry process. Within this framework, however, he or she avoids asking employees’ questions that tend to cause them to speculate about something that is outside immediate, contextual boundaries. He or she also avoids questions that tend to require making predictions about something.

Applying the POSSE Framework to Make Questioning Visible

How can employees become proficient in using questions effectively in their own problem solving/work-related situations? There are two major challenges associated with this question. First, while widely existing in any workplace, questions are so common that employees tend to simply take the process for granted, rather than analyzing how the process of questioning works. Which is, how questions are formed, the purposes they serve and the information sources they probe. Second, even when the questioning process is discussed and detailed to make it “visible,” employees still need opportunities to engage in active questioning practices themselves. The goal of the questioning process should be to increase and enhance proficiency in seeking out information and to generate higher levels of insight and understanding.

There are specific ways in which to practice the skill of questioning for reaching this goal:

Think Aloud Sessions

A “Think Aloud Session” is one way to make a relatively common or invisible process like questioning to identify important information more visible by allowing employees to share insights, reasoning and perceptions through the art of inquiry and the language of questioning to generate positive results. When a leader applies Think Aloud Sessions, they should model or demonstrate “Questioning Use Strategies,” and the vocabulary of “Question-Answer Relationships” (see below).

Creating Question-Answer Relationships (QAR)

A Question-Answer Relationship is an effective questioning strategy, which emphasizes that a relationship exists between certain questions asked, the material presented, and the background of the responders. In this strategy, employees need to rely on four question/answer relationships or descriptors to find the information they need in order to effectively answer the question(s) being asked.

Question-Answer Relationships help employees and the leader develop a shared, common language for discussing and understanding how particular questions are designed to function. The leader may need to introduce QAR and to explain the four types of question/answer relationships that it encompasses:

Consider and Explore – The answer exists, but employees need to put together different pieces of information to obtain it. This is the most common QAR.

Right Here – The answer resides within the question and is usually easy to comprehend. The information is found without much effort.

Question Asker and Me – The answer is not explicitly stated. Employees need to think about what they already know, what the leader tells them, and how both pieces of information fit together in a meaningful way.

On Your Own – The answer is not physically given or implied. Employees should be able to answer the question without reading or researching information, simply by using their own experiences and background knowledge.

QAR Brings Together Knowledge and Information

This is information and knowledge that employees need to draw upon in order to answer particular questions, through various inquiry strategies. For example, a question asked could require a response that is part of the respondent’s background knowledge, or an “In My Head” response. In contrast, another particular question may require a response that needs to be obtained from past readings about something in particular.

Asking a question such as, “Have you ever been surprised when our production line shuts down?” cannot simply be addressed with information from reading something, even if what was read about tends to describe a situation like the one being asked. Further, a question like, “What might we do if and when the production line breaks down?” requires both an understanding of the dilemma and the ability to draw on one’s own background to solve the problem in a new way. To gain a better understanding for how the QAR relationship works, and why it is important, the process should be focused on question asking and answering within workplace contexts and their activities.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

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womanoncomputer

Critical thinking and working effectively with others relies on applying appropriate frames. Frames are cognitive shortcuts that individuals use to help make sense out of complex information and to interpret that information in a way that can be meaningfully represented to others. Frames help to organize complex experiences, occurrences and facts into logical and rational as well as understandable groupings and categories. By labeling these complex experiences, occurrences and facts it becomes possible to give meaning to some aspects of what is observed through them, while at the same time discounting other aspects because they appear to be irrelevant or counterintuitive. Frames provide meaning through selective simplification, by filtering people’s perceptions and providing them with a field of vision for a problem.

Frames significantly impact the critical thinking process. This is because they tend to be built upon personal beliefs, values, and experiences, where individuals often construct unique frames that tend to considerably vary. Frames normally exist prior to the processing of information and they highly affect identifying, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating information, upon which critical thinking is based.

Individuals tend to be separated not only by differences in personal interests, beliefs, and values, but also in how they perceive and understand things, both at a conscious as well as sub-conscious level. Within critical thinking, individuals generally apply framing not only as an aid to interpreting issues and information, but also at times, to generate or promote some form of a strategic advantage.

Framing is often the impetus for rationalizing self-interest, convincing others, building unity, or promoting a preference for a specific outcome. Numerous factors tend to affect how people frame experiences, situations and circumstances, which in turn, influences the path and direction that critical thinking takes.

The Importance of Framing When Thinking Critically

An essential element in critical thinking is understanding how and why frames affect decision making or problem solving development. In the context of critical thinking situations, disagreements often erupt. As a result, individuals tend to create frames to help understand why the disagreement exists, what actions are important to alter or negate it, why different individuals act as they do, and how individuals should act in response to what is occurring.

Within group situations and activities, frames serve as a type of strainer for information that is being gathered, assembled and analyzed. Personal framing tends to determine the development of priorities and ways to address and achieve them, which typically includes generating alternative solutions as well particular action plans for their implementation. Depending on the issue, problem or context of the task or goal at hand, framing may be used to conceptualize and interpret, or to manipulate and convince.

Framing tends to be tied to information processing, message patterns, linguistic cues, and socially constructed meanings. Knowing what the various types of frames are, and how they are constructed, allows individuals to draw conclusions about how they affect the development of critical thinking and its outcomes, as well as how they can be used to influence both. It is important to analyze existing frames from a personal perspective, as well as ones others use. Doing this offers fresh insight into the dynamics and development of group interaction, problem solving, conflict resolution as well as decision making.

The Sources and Forms of Frames

Many factors work to influence frames as well as their formation. Disagreements and opposite viewpoints are usually associated with a complex and reinforcing set of frames in oneself, and others, as well as associated elements of risk, what types of information should be applied to a given situation, and how decisions should be made. The frames that most highly influence disagreements and opposing viewpoints among individuals include ones of: identity, characterization, power, risk/information, and loss versus gain.

Identity Frames

Individuals tend to view themselves as having particular identities in the context of specific circumstances and situations. These identities spring from an individual’s self-conception and group affiliation. The more central the challenge to one’s sense of self, the more oppositional one is likely to act. Typical responses to threats to identity include ignoring information and perspectives that tend to threaten one’s core identity, reinforcing connections with like-minded individuals or groups, and negatively characterizing problems, issues or situations.

Characterization Frames

Closely related to stereotyping, characterization frames may be either positive or negative. Individuals view others as having particular characteristics and when they find themselves in disagreement or at odds with others often tend to construct characterization frames for them that significantly differ from how the other parties view themselves. Such characterizations often undermine others’ legitimacy, and cast doubt on their motivations, or exploit their sensitivity.

Characterization frames often tend to be linked to identity frames, which serve to strengthen one’s personal identity while justifying individual actions toward another, thinking for example, “I am a free thinker, but my opponent is closed-minded and because of it needs to be subdued or chastised.”

Power Frames

Because disagreement is often imbedded into critical thinking activities like decision making, individual conceptions of power and group control tend to play a significant role in them. Power frames help a disagreer determine which forms of power are justifiable, such as in the form of existing organizational structure. At the same time, power frames also help to determine certain forms of power that are likely to advance one’s own agenda or positioning, like authority, resources, expertise, or unity-building.

Risk and Information Frames

Disagreements that often erupt during critical thinking projects or activities often involve personal expectations about future events, where these events may either be risky, or where the likelihood of them occurring is quite uncertain. Within these types of situations, certain group members will often begin to construct risk and information frames that produce highly variable assessments about the level and extent of a particular risk.

From a positive viewpoint, risk and information frames work to indicate which sources of information tend to be reliable, and which ones are not. Risk and information frames depend not just on an individual’s points of interest, but also on the person’s level of training, expertise, personal exposure to the risk, familiarity with the risk, and the potential for disastrous or negative impacts due to it. Because of the ability to deeply analyze various risk factors and their potential consequences these critical thinkers tend to act and think in terms of the degree in which the risk is dreaded or feared.

Loss Versus Gain Frames

It is common for most individuals who work as a collective group in problem solving or decision making to focus on “threats of potential loss,” rather than on “opportunities for gain.” People tend to react differently to a proposed course of action when its expected consequences are framed in terms of “losses” as opposed to “gains.” Most times there will be individuals who hold firm to believing that preventing a perceived loss is much more relevant, significant, and high in value than securing an equal gain. This works to reinforce a psychological barrier in regard to taking a particular course of action or accepting a specific problem’s solution.

Reframing

Reframing is the process of purposefully managing one’s personal frames. With the help of reframing, individuals are more likely to find new ways to reach an agreement. Within critical thinking activities such as decision making or problem solving, the ability to effectively manage frames and the framing process can lead to important shifts not only in the frames themselves, but also in the impact that they have on group dynamics.

Reframing is intended to:

  • Clarify various viewpoints in order to bring about a more productive exchange of information by listening to ideas that were not previously considered. This includes expanding discussions to explore different courses of action or solutions that had not been previously addressed.
  • Enhance individuals’ understanding of their interests and how the forms of action they take are used to serve these interests, which is accomplished by examining potential processes for managing frames more productively and to reconsider patterns of interaction among other group members.
  • Identify concepts, issues, or informational areas that individuals tend to view differently, which is used to determine opportunities for compromise, negotiation or trade-offs, which can be based on these specific differences.
  • Identify differences to determine which ones cannot be bridged. As an essential part of reframing it becomes important to identify ways to reduce or eliminate areas of disagreement in a manner that does not violate these types of differences, which includes determining the degree of importance that is awarded to them.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

“Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

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Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald's

Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald’s

In addition to allowing themselves to have their own thinking challenged, the great leaders also challenged the thinking of others, to help them to consider all possibilities and options. Consider the example of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s). “Suppose someone comes up with a proposal that McDonald’s should serve turkey sandwiches… Everyone on the board of directors can think of nine good reasons why turkey sandwiches would be a bad thing for us. They would blow the idea out of the water immediately. But Ray would say, ‘Wait a minute; let’s examine what this might do for us. Maybe we could make it work. If not turkey sandwiches, maybe we should try turkey hash.’ He wouldn’t let go of it until all possibilities had been considered.” 1

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) illustrated this point of challenging the thought process, when he remarked, “One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints is well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored. Further, important issues should be presented in writing. Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.” 2

Peter Drucker commented, “Dissent, even conflict, is necessary, indeed desirable. Without dissent and conflict there is no understanding. And without understanding, there are only wrong decisions. To me the most fascinating parts of [Alfred] Sloan’s [General Motors] book [My Years With General Motors] are the memoranda in which he first elicits dissent and then synthesizes dissenting views into an understanding, and in the end, into consensus and commitment. Sloan implies that leadership is not charisma, not public relations, not showmanship. It is performance, consistent behavior, trustworthiness.” 3

James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) was “never one to fill his staff with employees who were afraid to state their minds, Burke enjoyed having different viewpoints on board. ‘My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,’ he told Fortune (October 24, 1988). He always wanted his employees to fight for what they believed in, without fear of repercussions.” 4

Henry Luce (Time Magazine) was known to challenge other’s thinking. It was reported, “‘Far from being pained by new ideas,’ Mr. [Hedley] Donovan [Editor in Chief – Time Magazine] said, ‘Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time.’ This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said: ‘His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once.’” 5

  1. How He Made McDonald’s Sizzle (Success Magazine, March 1, 2009)
  2. Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)
  3. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  4. Watson Stephanie, Business Biographies: James Burke (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/A-E/Burke-James-1925.html)
  5. Whitman Alden, Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Magazine Empire, Dies in Phoenix at 68 (The New York Times, March 1, 1967)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

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Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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