Standpoints, interests and zero-sum game

Photo by Repoort

I was reading a very interesting post by Shmuel Merhav about “impotent explanation of the manager’s ego problem” (link in Hebrew). In short, Merhav claims that many times, problems in organizations are said to be a result of some individual’s ego. The trouble is that talking about someone’s ego does nothing to solve the problem. It blames it on an external force (and off course, it is never our ego, always others). Hence, it is an impotent way to deal with problems. Defining the problem as an ego problem suggests that there is nothing to do about it.

Merhav then goes to describe how in many of his consultation services, he came to an organization and heard that the problem was due to some manager’s ego, but when he actually looked into the problem he discovered it is not an issue of ego at all. For example, he describes a situation where a manager used to keep all essential information to himself. The other managers saw it as an ego problem. It turned out that that manager did it because of a legitimate concern that classified information will leak to competitors as this has happened a few years earlier. A little work allowed to better identify which information is really classified, and release most of the information the other managers needed without any fears of a leakage. Not an ego issue at all.

Another example was of a manager that did not delegate. A short investigation revealed that she did not really know how to. She was sent to a workshop that not only made her team members happy, but also made her very happy, as she was swamped and wanted to delegate. Again. No ego issues.

This reminded me of a lesson I wrote about in my e-book about understanding the difference between standpoints and interests. An interest is what we really want. A standpoint is how we communicate to the world what we want. Many times, there is a misalignment between the two due to our fear to admit our own fears or problems or just due to poor communication. Then, the discussion revolves around the standpoint, instead of around the interest.

Think about the manager with the classified information. His interest was that no sensitive information would leak outside of the organization. His standpoint was: I am not releasing any information. Only after his interest was laid out on the table, there was a possibility to really solve the problem by meeting the interest of both sides. Instead of asking a zero-sum question – “should the information be released or not?” a discussion of the interests allows to ask a win-win question: “how can we release the information the managers need, while making sure there are no leaks of important information outside the organization?”.

I think the important lesson we can learn from all these examples is that sometimes we assume that the other side has a standpoint, without him even stating it. The ego explanation is just our own standpoint of the situation. But, as Merhav puts it, it is not a very productive standpoint.

So, do you talk about your and the other side standpoints or about your and the other side interests?


2 Responses to “Standpoints, interests and zero-sum game”

  1. Jono Says:

    funny – I was just at my inlaws’ this weekend, and this month’s issue of לאישה introduces these concepts in the context of a self-handled divorce (i.e. sans attorneys)

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Well… maybe I have a future as a writer for Woman’s magazines… It will definitely be an interesting career change 🙂

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