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Being Inclusive Amidst Cognitive Diversity

Posted by admin on June 6th, 2011

Here’s an example (at Board Room level) of being inclusive amidst cognitive diversity….

It’s springtime in Scotland, early 1990’s. The dark cold indoor winter days have opened up into warm daylight hours with flowers blooming in the parks, birds twittering in the trees and people strolling through the meandering walkways feeling and smelling the promise of the season.

A nice scene – but not the one I am in. I am in a still-cold boardroom, witnessing the potential demise of a recently formed team of directors who have universally disappointed their Managing Director (MD) on a continuous basis for several months now. The atmosphere is frigid and words are being spoken through clenched teeth.

No one sits near the MD – the chairs at that end of the table where he is sitting are in arm-swinging distance. This MD is physically expressive.

The height of frustration is clearly expressed in the pallor of his skin tone and the sweat on his brow. He waves his arms in the air, calls a halt to the meeting, tells his (also frustrated) Directors to leave and tells me to stay behind. This is my first meeting in this board room and so while I am a little worried about what he might say to me, I am not worried that it will be about me. It’s clear that the relationship with his Directors is the source of his distress – not me, the newly hired-in consultant.

He tells me that time and time again, he’s asked his Directors for section development updates and strategic planning information. He tosses what he’s been given

today across the boardroom table and using his right hand to karate chop his left palm several times says -I ask for explicit information and this is what I get – this is all I ever get – from them! I look across the table and see pages of diagrams and illustrated cartoons. -They’re not taking me seriously at all. This is crazy – half of them are even doodling during our meetings3!!!

Cutting to the chase, this scene has been replayed out many times in this start-up organisation – the MD asking for explicit, bulleted information (as expressed by his body language), and his Directors (all hired for their track records of creativity and innovation) expressing themselves visually. The MD instinctively distrusts pictures due to their lack of detail, while the Directors see imagery as the only way to convey the whole picture in line with their evolving vision in an efficient manner.

The thing is, they were naturally expressing themselves in their preferred, sensory-specific styles. They were very comfortable with each other doing this. But they were not adapting themselves to their MD’s needs to see and / or read their informational updates differently.

As soon as we figured this out, we asked our selves how we could accommodate the communication gap between the MD and the Directors without compromising preferred styles of expression and information gathering. The solution in this case was to add bulleted lists to the illustrations – thereby retaining the big picture while adding in the necessary level of detail for the MD to feel that he had what he needed to assess the situation properly and make informed decisions.

The doodling during the meeting, by the way, was a perfect example of how some people doodle to learn and think while others doodle to distract themselves. You can guess who in the boardroom had which habit.

Lessons I learned?

1.      The response you get from others tells you what you are actually communicating to them – intentionally or otherwise.

2.      Others’ perceptions of your intentions may not be accurate, but their responses to those perceptions create a reality you will have to work with.

3.      Until you step into another’s shoes, listen through their ears, see through their eyes and feel through their emotions, you are effectively operating in a manner that can be regarded as dumb, deaf and blind by those with whom you are interacting (or not, as the case may be).

4.      A simple solution with immediate impact may be possible – even if there’s a history suggesting the contrary.

You can download more stories about being inclusive using this short link:

http://bit.ly/BeingInclusive

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