I Don’t Want No Bad News – but I am Curious about This News: Our Polarized Reactions to Negative Feedback
There is no “Truth for all,” but instead “truth within community.” People who are called “ignorant” are not lacking all knowledge; they simply are not part of the community that may view them as such. They function with knowledge of a different kind, . . . Each group’s knowledge functions in a different way for different purposes.
It might be that the multiple selves Ken Gergen identified in The Saturated Self, find coherence and guidance within a specific community. While there is no universal truth, there is truth within this community and one can find “truth” in the feedback being received if this truth is conveyed within this community and interpreted through the dialogue with one’s colleagues in the community. I need not travel to the train station if I can turn to my own community at my school for thoughtful and supportive feedback and guidance.
Truth in Relationships
If we are able to find “truth within community” that enables us to address the feedback and polarities in our life, then perhaps this community can also assist us in moving even further and deeper into our relationships with other people: what is the “truth” embedded in these relationships? I am reminded of the work done by Chris Argyris and Don Schon (1993) (along with their colleague, Peter Senge) with the Left and Right Column exercise. One writes a segment of dialogue in the right column when dealing with a difficult relationship (that can be a source of significant learning—an opportunity for vertical development). This segment might consist of five or six statements, with half of the statements being made by the protagonist (the coaching client) and the other half by the other person involved in this difficult relationship. The left column consists of the thoughts, feelings and assumptions that occur in the protagonist’s reaction to each statement made by the other person.
Typically, these left column reactions have not been shared with the other person. Instead they remain unarticulated but highly influential in the mind, heart and gut of the protagonist. These left column elements are often directly related to the content of the lower two quadrants in our polarity map. Argyris and Schon suggest that the left column assumptions can be self-fulfilling. For instance, if I believe that the other person is being defensive and evasive, then my own suspicious about them and my own reticence to share my thoughts and feelings about them, are likely to increase (justifiably) their own increased suspicions about me (their own left column) and thereby increase their evasive and defensive posture (setting in motion their own dynamic polarities)..