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Reflections: Understanding my neighbor

Seriously, is it just me that thinks this?
By Georgina Veldhorst

In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, it is becoming increasingly clear that many poor decisions were made over a number of years and that individuals rang alarm bells during this time but were ignored and probably paid a high personal price, being marginalized and denied promotions. Silencing the naysayer or the alternative opinion is not unique to Wall Street or the financial industry. The naysayer often makes us feel uncomfortable, but in the process of silencing this person, we stunt the depth and quality of our decisions. It is likely that we have all been in the naysayer or alternative opinion role at some point in our families, churches or organizations.

Think of a time when you found yourself in a meeting or gathering and felt strongly about something. You may have found yourself feeling more and more passionately as time went on. When you finally spoke up, you may have spoken with a lot of passion; you may have become emotional. When you finally said your piece, you may not have felt very comfortable and may have been left wondering, Is it just me that thinks/feels this way? At the end of meeting, someone may have approached you and said something along the lines of, “I am so glad you said something, I agree with you.” You may have felt like saying, “Well, why did you not speak up?” I have experienced this personally and have seen others in this situation.

Not only is this an uncomfortable situation for the person with the strong view, it is also uncomfortable for others in the meeting or gathering. We tend to not want to be publicly associated with the strong view, even if we agreed with some of what was said. Next time this happens in a meeting, watch what happens and other participants’ reactions.

So what is happening in this dynamic? Reflecting on Paul’s powerful idea in 1 Corinthians 12 that “all are parts of one body,” I find it likely that the person speaking strongly is stating more than his or her own view. Thus it comes across as amplified. Physics are involved: When there are views or emotions in the gathering that are unspoken or unheard, they do not go away. Someone will eventually say them and say them in an amplified way. The person is often unconsciously acting as a spokesperson, speaking on behalf of all those who share some of the view.

Left unattended, this dynamic is destructive. The person with the strong view can be ostracized, and perspectives are not heard and not adequately considered for decision making. At times we even try to rid this person from our group, or we are relieved when the person is not there.

Using the notion that this dynamic signals that at least a number of people in the group share some of the same perspective, it is worth stopping and discussing the issue more fully. The first step is to acknowledge the presence of the perspective and then to ask, “Who else shares some of this view?” If others in the group can surface their view, the dynamics will shift, and everyone will feel more comfortable discussing the uncomfortable, and decision making will be improved. Others will feel more comfortable sharing their views, and the person with the strong view will feel less uncomfortable.

Questions for reflection:

  • When you have been the person with the strong view, and how did it feel? What happened?
  • When you have seen others expressing a strong view, and how did you feel? What happened?
  • If the view was not fully explored by the group, did it go away? If not, when and how did it resurface?

—Georgina Veldhorst, Class of 1990, Management Consultant, specializing in complex situations

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