Compliance versus Learning

Recently I had several conversations that I could easily identify as centered around the “Unilateral Control Model.” These conversations caused me to reflect once again on how we tend to make things so difficult and complex by using this approach. And the really sad part is that most individuals don’t even know they are using this approach, therefore, leading to more difficulty and conflict.

I had an opportunity to ask someone why a certain way of doing things was the only way accepted. The response didn’t really surprise me. It was basically, “because that’s the policy or law or rule.” Put whatever term you want in the statement. What did surprise me was the lack of further explanation from this individual. You might be saying; so what? If that is the policy, what further information do you need?

If I lived in the 1800s or even the early 1900s, I might be very satisfied with that explanation. However, I live in an era when information and communication are supposed to be critical to the development of common understanding and mutual learning. Add to this the fact that I work in an institution of higher education and I might expect to receive a different response. After all, are we not interested in helping others grow and develop better understanding?

However, this all depends on your frame of reference. If you are operating out of the “Unilateral Control Model,” you would see no reason to provide further explanation of why another way of doing business is inappropriate. The person in charge or in the authority position has determined what the right way of doing business is and their responsibility is to get you to comply. And the best way they do this is through the use of power or by creating a policy or rule or law. Then when people ask why, you just turn to the obvious; because that’s what the policy/rule/law says.

If, on the other hand, your frame of reference is to help others understand the importance of a certain way of doing business, while still being open to other options, you would respond out of the “Mutual Learning Model.” Here the objective is not to obtain compliance, as much as it is to create understanding. Once a person has a better understanding as to why it is that way, there is a better chance of acceptance of the policy/rule/law. It doesn’t guarantee that acceptance, but it does provide the opportunity for learning. For if I don’t accept the way as the best way, I now know how I can impact that policy/rule/law to make a better change, if I so desire.

When someone says to me “do this because I said so” or “do this because it is best for you”, I find myself feeling degraded or belittled. I find this defeating and not very empowering. I might even choose to sabotage the outcome. Sometimes this may even happen unconsciously. I think we call that passive/aggressive behavior. I see it all the time. It is very real.

However, if someone says to me “this appears to be the best way to do this and there is a policy/rule/law created to encourage the adoption, because …,” I am more likely to engage with this individual. Even if I don’t agree, I feel I have an opportunity to dialogue and learn more or try to share my perspective to change the outcome. If I feel strong enough about the issue I will also learn how I might be able to impact a change.  If the explanation is clear to me and the policy/rule/law makes sense, I may chose to comply. At least I know why, which was my original question.

So, I continue to be perplexed when I see and hear individuals in higher education operate out of the “Unilateral Control Model” and not the “Mutual Learning Model.” If you have a different perspective on what I have just written, please share it with me and others so that we might learn together. If you have examples of where you see the two models being utilized and leading to an outcome that is either desirable or undesirable, share those with me and others as well.

Until next time, keep observing the behavior of others and look for ways to learn from your observations. Enjoy the summer, there is not much left.