July 9, 2020

Total Performance Leadership Blog Post #23: Stakeholder Engagement-Self Deception

By Rob Andrews

Dealing with Racism and Other Forms of Misunderstanding
Written by Rob Andrews and paraphrased from Arbinger Institute Research

One of my business partners recently introduced me to the Arbinger Institute, where he studied and learned about the concept of self-deception. It seems we all slip into self-deception multiple times each day, even if we have been trained not to! Self-deception causes people and organizations to get stuck, in old patterns, old behavior, old thinking, and old prejudices. To escape self-deception requires herculean effort, a new paradigm, better training and development, and better systems.

Organizations comprised of people who possess more or less the same mindset they’ve always had will continue to produce more or less the same results they’ve always produced. If they’ve struggled with the very common challenges of prejudice, low engagement, poor collaboration, and lack of innovation, these problems will continue – unless they change what’s actually causing the problems.

The cause of remaining stuck in all of these maladies is a self-focused inner mindset. Breakthrough results, including dramatic reductions in prejudice, can only take place when people shift from an inward mindset to an impact-focused outward mindset. The Arbinger Institute enables positive change through a  three-step process: mindset change, leadership development, and systems improvement. The latter two are beyond the scope of this post.

We are most definitely navigating turbulent waters, and for our racial issues, there is precedent. Repeating the precedent is unfortunate as we don’t seem to have learned much from our past experiences. Issues that have plagued us for a very long time are surfacing in a manner that is requiring all of us, as a human family, to look more carefully at ourselves, our society, our institutions, our businesses, and how we see one another.

According to this month’s (July 2020) special edition of the Arbinger Newsletter, we have forgotten we are a family. As a family, we have forgotten empathy, understanding, and listening, to allow self-deception, and the evils of racism, bigotry, and other forms of prejudice into our house. Addressing these evils requires an understanding that these are merely symptoms of a much deeper problem – that of dehumanization.

Dehumanization is a fundamental blindness to the humanity of others – to see a person’s color, religion, nationality, politics, or other distinguishing attributes, instead of seeing a person, another child of God, and a family member. It is to believe that others, who don’t look like us, think like us and/or believe like us, don’t matter like we matter, that others don’t count the way we count. It is the objectification of others and unchecked spreads like wildfire. When we see people, who are different as less than, or less worthy, we encourage the mistreatment of others even if we’re not aware of it.

As an organization, we are examining ourselves, and looking for ways we can improve. We know there are ways in which we must improve, and there are biases and blind spots we must address. The conviction to see others, to recognize our shared humanity, and to ensure equality, diversity, and inclusion is a commitment we must and will make. We are committed to this conversation, and to becoming an example for others.

With the current focus on racial unrest in the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, it would be easy to see this as a uniquely American issue, or one that is temporary, one which will subside. The reality is that the underlying problem of dehumanization is neither local nor short-term. All over the world and throughout history we’ve witnessed the animosity of dehumanization and the objectification of those we deem as “other”. Arbinger asserts that identifying and rectifying racism and dehumanization of every kind is the obligation of all of us, at all times. Not only right now, but especially right now. This will be a very long conversation. As I finished reading this month’s Arbinger letter, I was struck by a short video entitled: Turn the World Outward.

It is my belief, that if every human being on the planet were to watch this video about Daryl Davis, attached to this post, the world would instantly become a better place. As an African American youth who spent his earliest years overseas, in culturally diverse communities, Daryl had no real exposure to racism until he was ten years old. Once he returned to the U.S. in 1968 and experienced racial prejudice, he couldn’t understand how people could hate him simply because of the color of his skin. For the first time in his life, Daryl’s parents sat him down and explained what racism was. His ten-year-old brain couldn’t imagine what his parents were describing. On April 4th of that year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the nation erupted in violence and destruction.  Daryl still didn’t understand the basis for racism and has spent the last fifty-one years trying to understand it. Watch this ten-minute video and see for yourself what can happen once two people actually see one another as human beings, different yet belonging to the same family.