How to Unravel Common Human Engineering Issues

Note: If you are like me, I take what people say as what they mean. How naive can I be? I think many people are not able to say what they really mean, so it can come out garbled and then, your response to what you thought they meant can actually make it worse! Here are some common foibles in the human engineering process. Enjoy.

1. Jump to Conclusions   

In our rush to get a meeting over with and to get on with the job, it can be tempting to jump to conclusions based on hasty generalizations. For example, consider a company with high turnover in staff. They could easily jump to the conclusion that it is the fault of a specific manager and go about trying to replace that person. But in fact, it may be that the staff do not have the training they need to do their jobs, creating a mismatch between the company's needs and results produced. Help your groups look at all the possible inputs to a problem to remedy this potential error in judgment.

2. Attack the Person

This is something we see almost every day coming out of the Washington political arena. If we don't like what someone is saying, it's easier to simply attack the person rather than do the work necessary to take an in-depth look at their ideas. Perhaps in the above example, Jennifer suggests that the problem with the high staff turnover may be with the lack of training for mid-level managers. When David responds with, "Right, and what do you know about HR, you've only been in your job less than 2 years," he is diverting attention from Jennifer's idea to Jennifer's credibility. In this case, ask David to attack the idea and not the person.

3. Appeal to a Higher Authority

We've all seen the infomercials with famous stars or noted experts citing the miracles they've attained with the latest gadget, book, or program. In this case, we're asked to fully trust a product because of its association with a celebrity or an authority. No one is infallible, not even Morgan Freeman! And even if one is an expert on the subject at hand, we can't be certain that they know everything there is to know about the current issue on the table. Again, taking our example further, suppose David says, "Our manager's are poorly suited for their jobs and Bob (the company's CEO) told me this morning that he suspects that's the problem as well." Acknowledge that the authority, Bob in this case, could be right, but that it's in everyone's best interest to explore all the possibilities to save time and money down the road.

4. Point to a False Cause

It's easy to assume simple causes for complex problems. For example, consider an organization faced with constant change, as most are these days. People can become overwhelmed with the changes and with each other. Consequently, they blame the cause as a lack of communication from management. In actuality, there are likely many causes for people feeling misaligned. Communication quantity and quality may only be contributing factors. Help your group clarify the conditions they'd like to create, work backward to identify all the factors that would contribute to this outcome, then explore how they can be adjusted to make this happen.

5. Think in "All or Nothing" Terms

Most of us have made sweeping generalizations at one time or another. For example, "You can never trust a lawyer...Teenagers are terrible drivers...More money would solve all of our problems"...etc. This kind of thinking does not address the reality of each unique situation. Invite your group to refrain from sweeping judgments and instead, to look at the particular people and specifics of the situation on the table.

6. Base Arguments on Emotion Emotion is often used for manipulative purposes. I have observed people hijack  meetings by coming close to tears based on an inference that a suggestion for a change to a program somehow discounted their years of work. We are all suckers for that sort of thing, and a potentially good proposal can fall flat. Acknowledge the feelings of others, but don't let them cloud the true content, intent, and direction of your group.
Does any of this sound familiar?