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From time to time I'm brought into situations, both personally and professionally, where certain information is disclosed to me and I'm expected not to disclose it further. My own preference is definitely to be as transparent as I can about what I know, what I feel, what I'm thinking. So this frequently causes me various degrees of discomfort.

Of course, transparency isn't always good, even by my standards.There exists information that is legitimately secret, and reasonable people can disagree about specific cases. And there exists information that isn't so much secret as not talked about, because talking about it upsets people.

Several years ago, it was common for me to be chastised regularly for violating that social norm, both personally and professionally. But I have put a lot of effort during those years into learning to keep my mouth shut in situations where someone might be upset. The last time I recall was many years ago, being chastised for a habit of exploring unpopular ideas at meetings without consideration for the feelings of the people who are upset by those ideas, especially in cases where I think the ideas themselves are bad ones.

The thing is, I'm not entirely convinced that's a good thing. Bad ideas frequently contain excellent ideas that only get brought into general awareness by being discussed. And the habit of rejecting ideas -- even bad ones -- without discussion is a bad habit.

So... I don't know. I suspect I'm conflating importantly different things, which is one reason I'm writing about this... hopefully it will clear up in my mind as I think about it.



May. 9th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
(apologies for rehashing some of what we talked about on the phone, but I was already writing this comment when you called, and I'm finding that having the record to review is good for me.)

Thinking about this some more... I'm not sure I'm any good at operationalizing the difference between "accepting defeat" and "choosing my ground" in practice.

For example... suppose (as I describe here) I show up to a meeting whose stated purpose is to resolve problem X, and I start brainstorming solutions to problem X, and I get shut down by people who are more interested in advocating their preferred solutions, and I shut up and let them do it.

I certainly think of that as accepting defeat.

But it's certainly true that the purpose of that meeting (as defined by the reality of what the people in it are doing, never mind what they said officially, which we've already agreed is something people lie about... that's politics, etc.) is antithetical to brainstorming.

So to some extent, it's simply a matter of how I choose to look at it.

And, yeah, maybe there is a value to my getting in the habit of saying "I chose to defer the discussion of approach C to some as-yet-undetermined alternate venue" rather than "I tried to discuss approach C and failed" in situations like this.

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