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The Arbinger Institute are part coaching and consulting firm, akin to some others in the business, and part scholarly think tank. Their focus is on the problem of self-deception and how it lies at the root of conflict, as explored by founder C. Terry Warner.

Warner's ideas were first circulated as a rough manuscript among therapists, patients, and other enthusiasts Warner has tried to estimate its distribution in samizdat and figures it is in the scores of thousands. (It was revised and published in 2001 as Bonds That Make Us Free.)Then a friend who was in business asked Warner to apply his ideas to management in his firm; the insights were startling enough to produce the nucleus of a second book and to bring additional word-of-mouth business. At this point, recognizing that a purposeful community outlasts and outperforms any one creation or creator, Warner founded the Arbinger Institute. He commissioned it both to meet the teaching load and to continue exploring the concepts.

The second book, Leadership and Self-Deception, was published in 2000 with the Institute credited as author. More recently (2006), they have published The Anatomy of Peace, which addresses these issues in personal and family life. The three books share a teaching approach (lectures are forgotten; stories, remembered), and they share a basic model of human conflict, but they specialize for their audiences. Arbinger are fairly unusual, as consulting firms go, in this multiple outreach to businesses, individuals and families, and the still-interested community of psychologists, social workers, teachers, nurses, and so on.

Arbinger's model of human conflict is constructed from the point of view of one participant, and concentrates on that one participant's choices; it is not designed for third-person assignment of fault, but for first-person awareness and action. Roughly outlined:

  1. Your situation calls upon your conscience. Without obfuscating analysis, you know what you should do.
  2. If you do it, great. If not, you know you're betraying yourself.
  3. So as not to feel betrayed in the worst way, you try to justify what you did.
  4. In time, your attention creates your reality. You preferentially see what you've been looking for: your own importance, someone else's failure. You are deceived.
  5. The more you do this, the more accustomed you grow to it. You gain skill in fitting facts to your worldview, and you lose skill in changing your mind. These distortions cause you to treat other people badly.
  6. This often provokes a reciprocal response, making the other willing to interpret you in the worst possible light.
  7. At this point, each party has the dubious satisfaction of being confirmed in these negative views, and therefore feels justified in further offenses. This is a feedback loop wherein an eye for an eye leaves both blind. It would be hilarious if only it weren't so awful.

To this they add the contention that people can smell your motives. Your character shows in your eyes. If you do something for deceptive or hypocritical reasons, it will come back to bite you in your relationships. This means you have to find your own fount of goodwill and not wait for the other guy. It also means consciously trying to influence someone is the best way to fail. Rather, you have to live truthfully, respect enough to attend fully and enforce your boundaries with dignity, and then things will take their course. Trust that it will be for the better.

Obviously, this stuff can kick your butt if you're brave enough to take it seriously. Asking 'Am I in the wrong?' is difficult, and this model in particular assigns us a lot more personal responsibility than we want to see ourselves have. It demands that you control certain feelings, not once you are having them, but as soon as you can have them. But it's also transformative and liberating, being wholly concerned with what you can do about it. The change in viewpoint that it brings on is remarkable.

As you might guess, with this deep interest in character and authentic interactions, Arbinger does not subscribe to the leech model of business. They aim to bring about the same change in viewpoint in the organizations they work with, so they won't have to come back. They are currently trying to do this from 16 centers in countries around the world. Among their clients are IBM, Harley Davidson, LensCrafters, Cornell University, and the People's Republic of China Department of Civil Affairs.

'Arbinger' is the old French spelling of 'harbinger', chosen because it means forerunner (of change) and doesn't collocate with 'doom'.

Sources:

  • Bonds That Make Us Free;
  • brief mention in Clayne W. Robison, Beautiful Singing: Mind Warp Moments;
  • discussion in a linguistics class whose teacher co-authored a book on agency and language with Warner;
  • http://www.arbinger.co.uk/organisational.phtml ;
  • http://www.arbinger.com/C8/FAQ/default.aspx?Page=FAQ ;
  • http://www.arbinger.co.uk/news_articles/dr_terry_warner__an_interview_in_2000.phtml ;
  • http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=1031 ; and
  • http://www.technicalchange.com/BookReview-LeadershipDeception.htm .

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