Monday, July 10, 2017

Open Communication and Coercive Influence

One challenge that Filipino leaders face is the high power distance index our culture has compared to many other cultures in the world.  Power distance index  is defined as  “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” In this dimension, inequality and power is perceived from the followers, or the lower level. A higher degree of the Index indicates that hierarchy is clearly established and executed in society, without doubt or reason. A lower degree of the Index signifies that people question authority and attempt to distribute power. 

This means that we have one of the highest tendencies to defer to our leaders for directions, decisions, etc. So, often, whatever the boss says goes. If there are questions or opinions in our minds, we keep it to ourselves, and say we agree even if in reality, we don't. I think that some people have been so accustomed to this arrangement that they don't make effort to form their own opinion anymore.  This is probably why the terms superior and subordinates, "tauhan," higher ups, and people below are still used in many workplaces.

This is not at all surprising. A lot of us were brought up believing it's wrong for kids to join adult conversations, question authorities, or challenge the opinions of our elders. It found its way in the workplace. We do the dance of superior-subordinate everyday, where the superior dishes out instructions while the subordinates obey. This used to work because in the past you have managers and supervisors who are a lot more senior, with lots of experience and expertise in doing work that remained the same overtime.  We can't say that the same is true now. Many managers are younger even less experienced than their staff.  The work changes often because of tough competition and technology. Because many managers cannot claim monopoly on job expertise, they need to shift their tactic from instructing to facilitating, and from controlling to empowering. The quality of conversations is critical in this regard. If we are to improve the quality of the conversation, we need to minimize if not remove the coercive effect of position titles, tenure, age, and other factors that render people thinking one party is superior than the other. How do we do this? We establish norms for conversation. We need to bring the team together and agree on some rules of engagement. Here are a few suggested norms:
  • Speak up
  • Attack the problem not the person
  • Do not hesitate to engage in a debate if that is what is needed to improve decisions
  • Don't let fear of conflict stop you from expressing your opinion
  • Disagree without being disagreeable
These are but a few of possible agreements you can make with your team. Let me say at this point that agreements like these are easy to form but challenging to implement owing to people's hesitance to take risk. Modeling the way as a leader is crucial to its success. Allow yourself to be vulnerable by constantly inquiring humbly, asking for help, soliciting opinions and feedback.