September 26, 2012

Should we hold up the mirror to point out inconsistencies between other people's values and behaviors?

Yesterday a colleague sent me an email in which he wrote about how managers' actions are often inconsistent with their espoused values. He wrote that it is the role of HRM professionals to point this out and to hold up the mirror to those managers in order to encourage them to reflect on the inconsistency between their values and their behaviors. He asked me about my thoughts on this topic.

Here is what I wrote back:
"I think the gap between espoused theories/values on the one hand and theories in use or actual behavior on the other is an important concern. Doing something about this is important and HR can play a crucial role in this. My worry is whether holding up a mirror is – in most situations - the most effective way to do it. I suspect it is not. Several human tendencies will often keep us from responding constructively to held up mirrors. In general I think people are often not eager to admit to mistakes (see “Mistakes were made but not by me”) even when they probably know they were wrong. Also, people often interpret reality in a self-serving way, so they may sooner blame others than view themselves as having been wrong or inconsistent. There may be alternatives which are more likely to succeed. Instead of pointing at the negative side of the equation (the behavior which does not live up to the beautiful value) you may try to focus on the value. By focusing on the desirable value you address the best in the person which may make it easier for the person to be open to what have to say and may make it easier for them to reconnect to those values."

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