As consultants, our power to generate action in our clients’ organisations is directly associated with our ability to influence. As a result, to be successful in consulting we need to become great influencers.
Also, as consultants one of the most challenging aspect of our work is managing the conflict of interests that is embedded in our business. The conflict arises when the solution that we perceive to be the most efficient and effective option for our client is either rejected by them or would have negative consequences for our own firms.
Our belief with regards to what is “the right solution” is influenced by our backgrounds i.e. our conditioning. This, in turn, presents organisations to us as a combination of mechanical (ontic) or organic (ontology) constructs. Ontically oriented designers view organisations as a set of predefined processes that at certain points would require human interventions. In contrast, for ontologically oriented designers, organisations are representations of communities; each with their own unique set of values governing and enabling their members to cultivate relationships, to create identities and to build value.
In an ontical perceived world there are clear distinctions between right and wrong, wherein an ontological perceived world there are no absolutes. As a result, at the extreme levels ontically and ontologically designers could see the other as naïve (ontically based) or manipulative (ontologically based).
Our common understanding is that manipulators are not to be trusted, while the ability to influence is a positive skill that we associate with leaders, and we are encouraged to cultivate. How can we differentiate manipulation from influencing when both activities produce the same outcome i.e. getting others to think and act the way we want them to?
Intuitively, we consider influencers to be leaders that are good listeners, generous, transparent, no hidden agendas and put concerns of others at forefront of all their activities. However, manipulators hide or twist the truth for self-interests.
It is hard to disagree with these definitions as they resonate with our deep-rooted beliefs. As a result, they have become the baseline for passing judgments on others with a little to no awareness of the validity of our views.
We live with an illusion that there is an absolute truth, which we either already know, or seeking to find. We are also inclined to dismiss the value of decisions that we believe have revolved around self-interests; and advocate that “right decisions” should focus on wellbeing of all and not just a small few. These are the constructs that we use to coordinate and build relationships with each other.
I believe, at this point of human evolution, it is not possible for us to make “right decisions”. After all we are tribal beings. Tribalism is a part of our evolutionary past, which makes it our default way of being. We are either born in them (organic), which largely define who we are; or choose to be part of (eclectic), which largely define who we have chosen to be.
Survival instinct is at the core of every being, directing all actions. This together with the scarcity of resources at the early parts of human evolution, have cultivated a complex set of behaviours which reside in all of us.
Our ancestors realised that they need each other to survive. As a result, tribal communities were organically established. Individuals within these tribes need their tribes for their survival, while each individually needs to protect themselves within their own tribes. Also, tribes need to protect themselves against other tribes, while working together when needs be. As a result, from early stages of our evolution we learnt to live with cognitive dissonance.
Globally, we no longer live with the scarcity of resources, in fact quite the opposite. Nonetheless, we still behave as we are still living in the stone age. This is not surprising, considering that we are the results of thousands of years of evolution. To change our behaviour, we need to change our perception of how the world is constructed.
To establish an environment such that doing “right things” is possible we need to tackle concepts that are deeply woven into our belief systems. The most challenging one for Abrahamic based cultures is the concept of the duality of good and evil where evil is the antagonist. The other has been coined as naïve realism. It is a mind construct that enable us to justify our actions and avoid cognitive dissonance. It is a state of mind that within it we believe “everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest except me (us)”.
You have now reached the end of a thought process that took many hours of writing and many revisions of this article to bring clarity to my understanding of the nature of ethical behaviour.
In my view, we all believe that we are doing “the right thing”, while judging others from the comfort of our detached and ontical perspectives. However, actions and decisions cannot be assessed without a full understanding of the background and their context, which includes any cultural differences.
If we put the theorical definitions and politically correct language that advocate cordial-hypocritic behaviour to aside, then we can consider ethical behaviour i.e. doing “the right thing”, as an assessment that we have about people’s motivations and the consequences of their actions with respect to our own wants, needs and tolerances.
This definition claims that all of us place ourselves at the centre of all the decisions that we make or somehow involved in. In this version of reality, we are all the same, self-centric, and there is no room for judgment.