Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Surprised People STILL React Poorly to the Very Large Project

My dear friend and colleague Dawn Cooley wrote a great article, "Surprised People React Poorly" back in February.  She's responding to the new UUA logo and the following critique of the logo that swept through social media.  In her post she says that people who are surprised react poorly, as the title states, and because of that she suggests a plan:
Towards a 2-part solution: Trust is a 2-way street.  I encourage those of us on the sidelines to recognize our own reactivity, our own distrust of authority, and remember that we are the UUA.  The people we tend to point fingers at care very, very deeply about our faith tradition and are hard at work trying to ensure our future.   We do a thorough job of holding them accountable, but can we practice occasionally cutting them some slack? Apparently, this new logo wasn’t a whim and wasn’t created out of thin air, but has been a year-long process of dialogue with 50 different UU stakeholders (according to the recent VUU episode available here, particularly at 30:49).
And, for the UUA Administration, it would be much easier to cut some slack if we had confidence in where we are going.  I am reminded of a GPS I use which won’t ever give me the whole map of where I am going, but only shares one turn at a time. I hate it because I never really know if it is directing me to my desired destination.  Give me the whole map at once (rather than just pieces at a time) and then I will be more likely to trust each individual turn. I want the same from my UUA Administration. You seem to have been working from a plan – please share it in more detail.
This week, another dear friend and colleague, Erika Hewitt, writes (here and again on Tom Shade's blog here) about being engaged in a "Very Large Project" for Unitarian Universalism, and finding herself "armoring up."  She says:
We find ourselves bracing for criticism not because our Very Large Project is controversial nor because we have paranoid temperaments, but rather because of the cultural patterns that we witness in the larger UU world (much of it online):

Often, our people respond to brave risk-taking by shaming the risk-takers.

Too often, our people respond to the vulnerable expression of creativity or vision by criticizing the creation or vision, and naming the ways it failed to suit their personal taste.
Erika and Dawn point to a very real problem of a lot of criticism that the people who lead in our movement are faced with.  We do need to give them more of a a measure of goodwill. 

But I agree more with Dawn's prescription for dealing with it, recognizing that it's a two-way street.  In the 2/13/14 UU World article on the logo, it says, "And the UUA is developing other resources for congregations, regional groups, and the national association to use. This effort is about much more than a new logo and a new look for the website, Cooley said." And on my 2/13/14 blog article, Deborah Neisel-Sanders from UUA youth/young adults comments, "I can say that the new logo is just the tip of the iceberg; a good number of wishes that the logo reveal has generated are already in development or scheduled to be."  Three months after Dawn's request for the "whole map," the fuller picture about the UUA Brand has not been released.  The answer may be that there is not a whole map yet -- but then tell us so, and tell us the points you know along the way.  Instead of providing more information, my sense is that people have "armored up" instead.  Information-seeking is not critique--but it's difficult to tell tell the difference when you're on the defensive.  And the defensive posture is understandable when you've been heavily critiqued.  It's a vicious cycle, but Dawn points the way out of the cycle. 

To Erika, then, I would say, you're right.  But at the same time, you need to tell us more about your Very Large Project rather than armoring up.  Surprised people react poorly, and wishing they wouldn't and telling them they shouldn't isn't going to change everyone.  Rather than preparing for the fight, avoid the fight by bringing people along with you on your journey.  You begin by showing us your map, and engaging us in the Very Big Questions that your Very Large Project is addressing.  Share the vision.  As you say, "Creativity and courage are contagious." 

You're so right to point us to a path towards trust -- but trust is something created between us.  Trust is a two-way street. 

3 comments:

The Firebrand said...

Is there a developing crusade against criticism?

I'm an initiator and I'm often vulnerable as a result. One thing I learned is criticism, if timely, while there's time to improve - is constructive. Criticism does not always have an agenda of shaming the work or the creators. Criticism given after the fact is terrible if done in useless chatter, but one done in a creative team trying to build on future work, should be welcomed. Criticism is a door, where it leads is up to our attitude in receiving it. Was this criticism timely? -- this question can help us gauge how constructive it is.

The Firebrand said...

Is there now a crusade against criticism, that fountain of dissent that helps enrich teams so that they don't fall mindlessly off cliffs?

I'm an initiator and I'm often vulnerable as a result. One thing I learned is criticism, if timely, while there's time to improve - is constructive. Criticism does not always have an agenda of shaming the work or the creators. Criticism given after the fact is terrible if done in useless chatter, but one done in a creative team trying to build on future work, should be welcomed. Criticism is a door, where it leads is up to our attitude in receiving it. Was this criticism timely? -- this question can help us gauge how constructive it is.

Donald O'Bloggin said...

Cynthia:

Whose job is it in your congregation to read the Board meeting minutes, and those of the Committees of the Association, and keep people informed about the goings on in the wider faith?

I see this as very much a two way street, not of trust, but of WORK, and as Gini pointed out last year at GA, our congregations (as a group) are LAZY, neither putting forward vision, nor engaging in that proposed by others.