[Strategy] The Law of Compound Interest

The fact of the matter is no one can truly penetrate another person’s conflict experience.

We have fooled ourselves into thinking that, with all the social proofing via digital tools, and the peacock-like social media displays that we all put on every day, that we know other people’s inner lives.

But we don’t.

This is why we’re often surprised when a person casts aside the carefully constructed false mask of their digital life and shows the warts and all. We become fascinated, not with the honesty and truth, not even with the vulnerability; we become fascinated with the act of being honest and vulnerable. But we shy away from interacting with that person on a deeper level.

Conflicts, disagreements, “differences of opinion,” frustrations, expose this dichotomy in a person-to-person, face-to-face interaction. We want the other person to change (I had a person in a workshop recently ask me “Why shouldn’t the other person see that I’m angry!? Why shouldn’t they see that they’ve pissed me off!?”) because we want an outcome that benefits us in the short-term.

Without really unwinding the gossamer of strands that got us into that situation with that person in the first place.

The law of compound interest is particularly instructive when thinking about this. The law basically states that interest—over time—compounds slowly and inexorably, a quarter point or so at a time. Until, when the party who owes finally takes an interest in paying back the loaned amount of money, the interest has built up to such a point that they can’t. The law of compound interest is what led many in the ancient world to despise money-lenders (religious prohibitions against usury), or on the opposite scale, to lend money out at outrageous terms and then when the amount plus interest could not be paid back, to frame the lack of payment in moral terms and throw the borrower (and even their families) out of a community (debtors’ prisons).

The law of compound interest applies just as keenly when thinking about how the responses and reactions to conflicts, disagreements, “differences of opinion,” and frustrations build up over time, until the reaction from both parties is to explode in anger—or shut-down into passivity. There is no resolution from such cycles of build-up, explosion, retreat, build-up, because every new cycle builds up new strands of complication as surely as compound interest builds on the loan principle of the the conflict. Until it’s so big and heavy that banishment from a community—or a situation, or a relationship—seems like the only answer.

Engaging with conflict in this mental and emotional framework seems scary and requires a person to be as vulnerable as they would have to be if they ceased to perform for a digital audience of “friends” and began to get honest and vulnerable. Resolving the conflict in this mental and emotional framework seems easy because resolution implies a release of the tension, compounded over time, from the uncomfortable friction of “dealing with this person.”

But all the tactics and strategies; all the tools and the verbal jujitsu; all the “hacks” and improvements; all the surface engagement and “easy” resolution; all of these things are just methods to avoid vulnerability, to indulge in the satisfaction of releasing our anger as a weapon rather than as a tool, and in the end only compound the problem, one quarter point at a time.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/

[Advice] Cultural Competency

The following meme is shared around LinkedIn and it goes something like this:

“The worst phrase in business is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

The Best Phrase in Business-

This has to come from somewhere. Not the meme, but the sentiment behind the meme.

The sentiment has to do with three areas that are critical to people becoming (and remaining) culturally competent in their organizations:

The presence of social proof: Whenever people get together, they begin to form tribes, cliques and in/out groupings. We can’t help it. Social proof allows some people to be “let in” to a culture, a way of doing things, or even a language–and encourages others to leave or get pushed out. Social proof is so strong, that when an individual violates it (either through ignorance or malfeasance), people in a group are more likely than not going to avoid confronting the behavior and wait for someone else to do something. This is why we have police officer and the Bystander Effect.

The need to be liked: Whenever people get together, there is an instant “shaking out” of the pecking order. Who is up, who is down and inside of those constructs, who is in and who is out. When people in the group don’t have an internal need to be liked by other members of the group, the group either ostracizes them or shames them into submitting to the group. This is why pre-school, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Dr. Seuss matter between the ages of 4 and 6, and standardized curriculum, rigid conformity and social norming don’t.

The desire to obey authority: Whenever people get together, they automatically seek to assign power to one (or several) members of the group. In smaller groups, this may be based on skillsets, acquired knowledge, or even personal, physical power. In large groups, this desire to obey will be conveyed to people with titles, degrees, certificates and other pieces of paper that have been deemed to have social worth (there’s that proofing thing again). This is why a car mechanic has more authority carrying a clean overcoat and clipboard, than a car mechanic does with grease all over their hands and in their hair.

So what does all this have to with organizational culture?

Well, since culture in established organizations is driven by inertia and supported by social proof (“there’s evidence everywhere that the culture is working…we all still have jobs”), the need to be liked (“the culture can’t change because that would require someone to stand up and not be liked”) and the presence of an authority figure (“that guy over there in the suit and tie says ‘no’ so we’ve gotta follow him”), the idea that “we’ve always done ‘X’ this way…and we aren’t changing because that’s the culture” is a logical, rational, emotional statement.

But, it’s not an innovative one.

And it’s not a statement that’s going to disappear any time soon.

Better to distribute the meme around LinkedIn that goes something like this:

“The best phrase in business is ‘That person was a rebel, took a risk, changed things, and got fired for it.’”

Would that fit on a shirt?

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtrainining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jesansorrells/