Regular readers of this blog will be very familiar with Aristotle’s Three Agendas; Intellectual (Logos); Behavioural (Ethos); and Emotional (Pathos). They are a core philosophy of the Enablers Network and are widely used by our clients and many of our partner networks.
We consistently find that the Three Agendas are quickly understood and embraced for their simplicity. People instinctively ‘get’ that all three are required, and that in each situation one of them may need more attention than the other two. It is evident that all will need to be nurtured if a project is to succeed and teams find the language helps them to navigate more comfortably between the three.
So, if there is a broad consensus about the relevance of the Three Agendas and the value that they can offer, why bring them up again? Are we, for marketing reasons, launching a brand new 4th Agenda? No, we are not. But interestingly, ‘Eros’ has been suggested as a potential fourth on more than one occasion.
The aim of this blog is to wave a red warning flag and put the spotlight on an issue that risks undermining the impact of the model. The issue is us, the users. The finger points at all of us, whether we are teams, organisations or networks. It affects consultants, coaches, or those seeking such services….
The issue: We are not the objective, balanced and unbiased decision makers that we like to think we are.
A simple question opens the Pandora’s box of bias: “Which one do we start with?” We hear this from existing teams when they ask for help, and it is common when working with newly forming teams. It is an important question we ask ourselves when sitting down to design workshops.
There are good arguments for each:
- LOGOS first: “A business must have a clear purpose, agreed goals & objectives and properly defined team roles; it must know exactly what is be achieved, by whom and when. Once that is clear, we can identify and concentrate on the behaviours that will help us deliver our targets. The commitment, passion and spirit will emerge as we find ourselves working productively together and making progress towards a common goal.”
- ETHOS first: “If we improve our behaviours and team dynamics, they will result in higher quality conversations. That means when we do talk about our strategy or objectives, we will be able to hear each other, tap into people’s full creativity and intelligence, and build better roadmaps. Not only that, but the feeling of connection and respect that comes from quality dialogue will create an energised and stimulating environment.”
- PATHOS first. “When people share their dreams, passions and inspirations, great things happen. If we create a psychologically safe space, people will stretch themselves and show us their best selves. The bedrock of support and connection will encourage purposeful challenge. Appropriate risks will be taken; goals will be ambitious and creativity will flourish because mistakes are accepted.”
The obvious answer is to examine the context and identify the most appropriate place to start. For example, when I design a workshop for Enablers’ clients, I make a completely objective analysis of the situation, skilfully diagnose the need and then seamlessly meld all three agendas together, starting with the one that is most relevant. My colleagues do the same, so why do we often come up with radically different plans? The resulting conversations can be ‘lively’ with several people arguing with passion about what is best for this team, business or group.
For an explanation, let’s revisit another old sparring partner, confirmation bias. It was explained in an earlier blog provocatively entitled: “We’re Number 1: What could we possibly learn from you?”
In brief, our decision making is heavily influenced by what we already believe. When searching for ‘evidence’, we amplify data that match our preconceptions, whilst unconsciously side-lining contradictory signals. Then, when weighing up contrasting options, we come down heavily in favour of a decision that reinforces our biases. The action we choose then risks reinforcing the old adage “When the only tool you have is a hammer; everything looks like a nail.”
For example, when looking at a team or organisation that is underperforming, you might hear such statements:
- “It’s obvious there is mis-alignment, with people pulling in different directions; the priority is to help them get a common clear goal and then define collective priorities.”
- “Their meeting discipline is terrible; agenda points overrun, decisions are deferred or taken off-line and actions are rarely followed-up; let’s focus on the dynamics and behavioural habits.”
- “The lack of trust is hurting everyone; there is no honesty and people are hiding in their silos. It’s clear that this team needs to lower their guard and reconnect in an authentic way.”
Same situation, three different diagnoses, each of them partially true.
It is not just individuals within our network who are attached to favourite paradigms. We all know consulting companies who are driven by Logos, training networks who are Ethos dominated, and coaching partnerships who specialise in Pathos. Each is likely to attribute any difficulties that their clients are experiencing to their flavour of consulting. Many of them (and us!) are making valiant attempts to effectively apply all Three Agendas, but it is hard when orthodoxies are so deeply entrenched within groups.
The solution is to recognise our own biases, either individual or collective. Then we can be open about them and deliberately choose to work with those who will offer a contrasting viewpoint. Some of the greatest successes in the Enablers network have been when our work has coincided with and complimented the strategy (Logos) work done for mutual clients by some of the famous strategy firms. Because of our differences, it has not always been an easy ride, but our strength in Ethos and Pathos has dovetailed perfectly with their strategic insights and vision. When we have trust and common clarity between us, the partnerships have been incredibly impactful.
On a smaller scale in Enablers we deliberately try and pair up people with different perspectives when scoping, designing and delivering client work. We also passionately encourage our clients to put diverse teams together when initiating change or making transformations.
Seeking diverse opinions is one option. Another is to use a diagnostic. The framework below was originally created to illustrate the relationship between Logos, Ethos and Pathos. It suggests that for genuine collaborative or partnering behaviour to occur, there must be very high levels of Trust and Clarity; they are necessary preconditions, not optional extras. If those levels are not high, then the maximum that can be expected is co-operation or even neutrality. The framework also highlights how imbalances between Logos and Pathos are reflected in very different patterns of interaction.
As a diagnostic, the framework allows observed behaviour (or stories about behaviour) to be placed on the chart. This will help to create hypotheses about where to put attention, or which axis to start with. In almost all situations, it will of course be worthwhile to improve both Trust and Clarity, but the framework may remind us of our biases and encourage us to attend to one of our least preferred Agendas.
In summary, we invite people to
- Pause, reflect, recognise and admit their biases
- Respectfully challenge bias in others
- Actively seek out those with a different perspective to test perceptions and assumptions2
- Recognise the strengths in other people or organisations and make the effort to form partnerships
- Continue experimenting with the Three Agendas and keep them alive for another 2000 years
- This framework has Behaviour at the centre. That may reflect my semi-conscious bias towards Ethos!
- Thank you to Marvin Faure who I sought out to review this. His feedback was respectfully challenging but very helpful