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On behalf cautions

Good Group Tips

In principle, speaking on behalf of others is fraught with potential conflict. It warrants caution. It encourages assumptions and blurs understanding. It slows and can even clog the decision-making process. To avoid misunderstanding, conflict, and inefficiency, it helps to ask questions of each other in real-time conversation. The most efficient and best decisions are usually made face-to-face among those most affected by the decision.

Sometimes people speak on behalf of others to stir up trouble or for entertainment, and it often amounts to exactly that.

Practical Tip: Resist the temptation to speak on behalf of others. Speak for yourself and encourage others to speak for themselves. Help create a group culture of support and respect so that people are not shy about speaking and standing up for themselves.

When information is delivered on behalf of others take it for what it is: once removed, half the story. Not to be ignored perhaps, but not to base a decision on.

There are times when speaking on behalf of someone else or a class of people is appropriate, in fact called for. There are times that a group should rightfully consider voices not present. However, a position on behalf of someone not present is rarely cause to block a decision. When forward progress is halted on behalf of someone not present, conflict erupts and inefficiencies abound.

– Craig Freshley

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5 thoughts on “On behalf cautions

  1. Ha Ha! Good one Ed.
    Clearly I love talking about this stuff…..probably TOO much!
    A chat over a beer sounds great.
    Thanks again for writing. I hope you write again some time.

  2. Craig,

    Right you are: It would be best for Tom to come to the meeting and speak for himself.

    Enough process for one day; let’s go have a homebrew.


  3. Thanks for writing, Ed. I appreciate that you are making a distinction between conveying an apparent feeling and conveying an apparent fact.

    And I totally get the distinction between a statement like, “Tom said he’d volunteer to clean the bathroom” (an apparent fact) and statements like, “I’m sure Tom would be OK with being assigned that job” or “Tom would feel upset if we gave him that job” (apparent feelings).

    Conveying apparent feelings is more fraught with potential conflict than conveying potential facts, but my caution remains in both cases. I did intend “speaking for others” to apply broadly, to all types of cases.

    If someone reports that “Tom said he’d volunteer to clean the bathroom,” I can imagine some follow-on comments like this: “How did he say he would do it?” “The whole bathroom, really?” “Would he buy the cleaning supplies too?” “Well I heard that Tina wants to volunteer to clean the bathroom also. Would Tom want to clean it WITH Tina?” “But Tom doesn’t get along with Tina!” And so the group might spend time speculating on the refined meaning of the APPARENT fact.

    The problem is, whether fact or feeling is being conveyed, we can’t ask the person (in this case Tom) for clarifications if he’s not there. That in itself can create conflict and/or inefficiency. See my other Good Group Tips where I say that misunderstanding is the cause of 90% of all conflict.

    Now I know that I have painted a caricature and I have been a bit silly, even extreme. In many cases an apparent fact would go unchallenged and would be helpful. But for risk to be entirely reduced, Tom should show up himself and speak for himself and volunteer in person. That might be inconvenient for Tom but it would minimize risk of conflict and maximize group efficiency.

    Other reactions? Other points of view?

  4. It is very important to clarify what we mean by “speaking for others”.

    It seems that “reporting what someone else said” is sometimes incorrectly associated with “speaking for others.” Most of the resources I’ve read define “speaking for others” as “describing with one’s own words the thoughts or feelings of others.”

    Surely, “Tom said he’d volunteer to clean the bathroom” is not the same as “I’m sure Tom would be OK with being assigned that job” or “Tom would feel upset if we gave him that job.”

  5. I like this one alot because it makes other people draw their own conclusions and does not allow the leader to impose his views. I find this very important and even better, ask people to summarize for you, so you dont do the summary all the time with your own values interspersed into it….

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