Compliance or Defiance?

Compliance or Defiance?

I heard a Manager say recently, “If we try and make it idiot proof then someone will just find us a bigger idiot” Dave Smile

Guest post by Dr Rob Long from

idiotIt’s a strange thing this binary thinking that uses the strategy of entrapment to beat its own drum. I have been coaching in safety leadership all week on building and construction sites and the binary mindset creates so many problems. Rather than actually trying to understand why people make decisions and judgments, the popular response is to label someone as ‘an idiot’. Once a person is labelled as an idiot, they no longer need to be taken seriously nor, treated humanly. The black and white mindset assists the dehumanization of risk too.

In the building and construction culture it seems you are either intelligent or you an idiot, there is no in between. The ‘black and white’ is so attractive yet, it doesn’t explain reality, nor does it help in approaching a conversation about safety. Instead, such language and thinking tends to suppress conversation and perpetuates a lack of effective communication on site. The language of zero does similar, creating a dichotomy by setting an absolute as a goal. The same sees to apply to the issue of compliance, the black and white mindset sees either compliance or defiance. Yet, in reality, there are many reasons why people make mistakes, succumb to error or miss the mark, and none of it is intentional.

We know from research in psychology (Fromm, Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, Sanford) that the authoritarian personality type (F Type) is most attracted to fascism, fundamentalism and bullying. The key elements of the authoritarian type are:

· Rigid beliefs about right and wrong.

· Compliance with orthodox authority.

· Belief in aggression toward those who do not comply with authority or who are different.

· A negative ‘black and white’ view of people in general.

· The demand for ‘strong’ leadership and associated power.

· A belief in simple answers and polemics.

· Resistance to creative ideas.

· A black and white worldview.

· A tendency to work through fear and project problems on to others.

We also know from social psychology (Zimbardo, Slovic, Plous, Caldini, Sunstein) that there are many social reasons why people make decisions. We also know that a range of cognitive and social biases and effects, influence human judgements in ways that are not conscious. So, if people are not conscious of many of their choices, how can they be blamed for being defiant? How does such blaming enable effective conversations about safety and risk? How do these filters in language ‘block’ relationships and accountability for risk on site?

photo credit: fatllama via photopin cc

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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