Undiscussables Opinio Piece

Is there a relationship between our individual capacities for speaking the truth, and the patterns we see in organisations and human systems in general? If we can’t discuss the undiscussable with our loved ones, what does that mean for our workplaces?

I ran a workshop at the Love, Sex & Intimacy Fair in Brighton & Hove in 2013. The event was primarily about personal relationships, in all their many shades, and, just to satisfy your curiosity, was less about bondage and more about bonding. My offer to the organisers was to facilitate a conversation around the connection between our individual relationship with undiscussables, and what that might mean in terms of our behaviour at work, and in turn wider patterns in society.

My hypothesis

If we are unwilling to speak our truth at home, what, fundamentally, will make a difference when it comes to our willingness to speak out in the workplace, say in response to witnessing illegal/unethical behaviour? In the workshop, I tested out the following framework with the group as a means of assessing how, and why, one might choose to name an elephant, or not. It stems from a conversation with Simon Bottrill, who is responsible for the design of this site.

Relative to something that you are considering naming and from undiscussable to discussable:


UD Costs Benefits Model

This is one way of assessing risks and costs, and it starts with you. For you need to live with the consequences of your choice first and foremost, before others.

A challenge

One of the participants in the group challenged me re the model. She suggested that all costs were zero. Yes they may have consequences, but the scale, the positive and negative implications of these, are individual and social constructions. In essence, she argued there are no good or bad choices, no high or low risks, just choices. And how others respond to your decisions is down to them, and equally socially constructed. Intellectually and philosophically, I agree. And that is not how human systems and the people within them typically behave. I can see how that can be true, and I also hold it to be true that there are consequences to my actions that impact others and I choose to take those into account. For example, my choice as a whistle-blower in the NHS may have implications in terms of my ability to work, both in my organisation or indeed anywhere in the NHS. Similarly in the finance sector. If I have a family to support, my decision is not one that can be taken in isolation without impacting my family system.

This is not about right or wrong, good or bad. Philosophy is fun. Ethical considerations are yours to have. Your choices can be held as just choices and others are free to see them how they wish. And consequences can be real, even if you wished that others had the wisdom to see that choices have no ‘cost’ per se.

What do you think?…