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Breaking the Devilish Tyranny of the Double Bind

“We’ve got to get the new product release out by Q3, but we can’t, because the product team is incompetent and no one will admit it.”  “I know this design is horrible, but I can’t say anything because the VP of Marketing will explode.”  “The customer will be furious that we can’t deliver this product when promised, but you can’t tell that to Sales or you’re branded a ‘nay-sayer.’   So we’ll just have to lose that customer, I guess.”

I must … but I can’t.  We should … but we won’t.  We will surely fail unless we do … but I certainly know that we won’t.  Such are the classic forms of “double-bind thinking.”

Victim.  Stasis.  Gridlock.  Futility.  Lack of accountability.  Ultimately letting yourself off the hook and expecting that others will do the same.   And finally expecting that others will let YOU off the hook, too.  Because, “What’s a guy to do, anyway?”  So collectively your team, your division–maybe even your whole company lives in the world of  “We must, but we can’t, so surely we will fail.”  Call it whistling in the dark or hiding under a sheet–you know very well–and everyone else does too–that ultimately it will all catch up with you and the fall will be catastrophic.  You won’t be blamed–probably–because you, like everyone else chose not to state the uncomfortable truths.

We call it “double-bind thinking.” It is rampant in organizations and it is killing companies with mediocrity and lack of accountability.

How do you recognize “double-bind thinking”?  Big hint:  The little word “but” is usually a part of the conversation.  “The design is disastrous, but I’ll start WWIII, if I say that.”  “There’s no way we can meet this commitment, but Sales already promised it.”

The answer to “but” is “So what?”   And that’s how you start breaking the devilish hold of the Double-Bind on your team, division or organization.  “The design is disastrous, but I’ll start WWIII, if I say that.”  SO WHAT, if you start WWIII?  That’s probably exactly what is needed.

I’m not suggesting that you be inflammatory.  Be respectful in your approach and try to win some buy-in.  You might be surprised at how quickly others join you.  You might be surprised at how many others see the double-bind and recognize the disastrous course it will lead to.

And you might be surprised at how much relief you feel at speaking the truth, stating the obvious, and creating an environment of accountability.

But, you say, I might be labeled a troublemaker, naysayer or worse!  But?  So what?

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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