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Filling the space between stimulus and response – using MARC for better decisions

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning


As a lawyer, labor relations practitioner, husband and father, few books have impacted me as strongly as Frankl’s account of his life as a Holocaust prison survivor. 


His very survival depended on his ability to recognize that horrific conditions were often outside his control – the stimuli; but only he had the power to determine the effect of those stimuli upon him and the choices he would make – the responses. 


In our labor and employee relations careers, we will never experience anything even remotely as awful as the circumstances that Frankl faced.


But we will face stimuli – often – that will challenge our ability to make good responses.


We operate in a “business adversarial” relationship, where our goal is to disagree without being disagreeable.  We want to be free of negative emotions in this work, but often we are not.  


Voices may rise with salty language in grievance meetings between management and the union; or in contract negotiating sessions.  Union officials have a tough job in their legally imposed duty of fair representation.  Management has a tough job, making decisions to advance company goals that are sometimes diametrically opposed to employee goals to advance themselves.   


Decisions made when emotions are elevated and raw can result in over-reaction.  Disciplinary decisions can be punitive instead of corrective and can result in inconsistency. 


For us to prosper and advance harmonious relationships, emotional and reactive responses make no sense.


From an evolutionary perspective, emotional outbursts make perfect sense. 


When we are fueled by emotions like anger or fear, we are programmed for “fight or flight.”  Adrenaline production spikes. Our respiration and blood pressure elevate.  Anxiety courses through us, spurring us to quick action.  Then we say something or do something we later regret that may never be forgotten or forgiven, always lingering in memory as relationships either dissolve or continue.


We hit “send” – when we need instead to hit the brakes. 


William Ury, Harvard professor and creator of the Harvard Program on Negotiation, has led some of the most high-stakes peace negotiations in the world, including those that led to the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978.  In a recent podcast interview with Tim Ferriss, Ury said,


            “When angry, you will make the best speech that you ever regret.”


MARC training provides time-tested, simple-to-remember tools and techniques to ensure that we avoid such emotion-fueled, poor decisions with a professional pause between stimulus and response.


MARC tools incorporate Frankl’s space between stimulus and response, and take a step further by providing checklists and processes to ensure that the “space” is filled with consistent, legally compliant, consensus-based actions.


Good consensus-based decision-making requires a group that values diversity of thought.  There must be psychological safety where each person in the group can freely “speak truth to power,” regardless of their position or rank in the company.  Elimination of “confirmation bias” and “group think” is crucial to good decisions. 


Labor and employee relations managers have a key role in MARC’s processes,

providing professional advice on company policies, labor agreements, regulations and laws, company history and likely future outcomes related to a present decision.


The result of the group’s efforts is a decision that is consistent with other similar company decisions.  It is a decision that is compliant with company policies and relevant regulations and laws.  It is a decision that affected employees will see as fair.  It is a decision that a labor union will respect – a decision that enhances the labor-management relationship.


Consensus techniques operating in the “space,” are in no way the exclusive domain of MARC.  The annals of philosophy, psychology, business and even religion are filled with these concepts. 


Noted behavioral economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate for his important work on decision-making, writes in his latest book, Noise, that we benefit in decision-making whenever we use a system -  a consistent process – rather than just work “on the fly” without systematic guidance. 


MARC uses systems to ensure that all of your labor relations matters are decided in the same ways.  It is a powerful message to an employee that, “We follow MARC processes in every single case we have – you can be assured that you’ve not been singled out or treated differently.” 


Organizational psychologist Adam Grant provides support for taking extra time to make important decisions in his recent book, Think Again, where his examples prove that we make better decisions by rethinking them – not solving them based on our initial impressions of the issues and facts.  Just taking some time and reflecting – rethinking -- on an initial decision will often prove to provide a better result.  Even on our own, without a consensus group, we make better decisions when we mull them over and rethink them.  This, too, is covered within MARC’s toolkit. 


The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “Don’t let the force of impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it, ‘Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent.  Let me put you to the test.”


Over 2,000 years later, this is still sound advice. 


So take a pause, maybe a deep breath.  Feel your negative emotions evaporate like the morning dew.  Then call us at MARC, and we’ll talk about the things that MARC’s tools can do for you!


CALL MARC INC:  812-232-1990







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