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Pratt Discusses Group Management

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

On Tuesday, Michael G. Pratt, the man CSOM Dean Andy Boynton called the “single most productive faculty member in the Carroll School,” delivered the first inaugural O’Connor Chair address titled “Peace without Quiet: How Groups that Hate Each Other Can Work Together.”

 His presentation revolved around a central problem addressed frequently by business school research: how do you get internally diverse organizations and, in turn, societies, to come together to make better decisions and be more creative?

“You can be more flexible as an organization when you have multiple perspectives and differing ideas being considered,” he said. “You can move, you can shift, you can change.”

There are inherent challenges in bringing two or more different groups together.

“These challenges are compounded to a much greater degree when these groups are defining themselves in opposition to each other,” Pratt said.

Such a phenomenon is known as “mutual disidentification,” which happens when parties ignore the potential plurality of other groups’ identities.

“This happens in Congress today, because part of me being Republican is that I am not a Democrat, and vice versa,” Pratt said.

Groups, he said, differ in terms of how well they “mesh.” Tensions between two groups can vary widely in severity. The easier tensions to deal with stem from combining relatively compatible groups, usually by somehow keeping both groups alive or dealing with more incompatible, differently oriented groups. Universities and conglomerates fall into this category. In this second instance, an organization is better off keeping each part separate from the others.

Sometimes, though, management has to deal with finding a way to get diametrically opposed individuals and groups of individuals to somehow find common ground. Such opposition is often the product of a long-standing, deep-rooted, and chronically salient conflict, which renders traditional conflict management tactics insufficient.

Pratt suggests a new type of thinking to combat this difficult situation: starting with appealing to these groups’ intuitions, rather than trying to use rational arguments.

“This means you have to be more like Dale Carnegie and less like Rachel Maddow or Rush Limbaugh,” he said. “Be likeable, be nice, and be friendly. Remind groups they are more than the antithesis of the other.”

Moreover, this process fosters a sense of positive distinctiveness. The goal is to validate the ideologies of both groups.

“Respecting your tradition does not diminish my own,” Pratt said.

If this can be done effectively, then the final phase of successful conflict resolution, which Pratt terms “Peace without Quiet,” can be reached. Different parties are encouraged to both promote their own subgroups and air differences, but more importantly they are also able to embrace a common identity.

Such a process reflects well on the Jesuit ideal of “living in the tension,” or being able to live peacefully while keeping tensions alive.

“Peace is not holding hands or singing songs, and though there is harmony, it is peace … without quiet,” Pratt said.

Pratt ended his presentation by quoting the legendary Bostonian John F. Kennedy: “So, let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

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