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Constructive Criticism and Team Work In Politics

Written By: - Date published: 1:51 pm, January 26th, 2020 - 34 comments
Categories: accountability, brand key, Deep stuff, journalism, Left, Media, news, Politics - Tags: , , ,

Have you ever experienced that you put forward a good idea, plan, or strategy in and to your team and a higher-up (e.g. the boss) or one of your colleagues takes or gets the credit for it and you get not even an acknowledgement? It sucks, doesn’t it?

John Key used to grate me for a number of reasons but one the main ones used to be that he commented on just about everything his Government did (or did not). No doubt, this was a deliberate PR strategy and reporters didn’t seem to mind so they played along. It did nothing for the National team and leadership succession after John left the House.

It happens a lot, and not just in politics, thanks (!) to the prevailing attitude of looking after Number One where career-minded people push themselves forward and ahead of others with only promotion and pay-rise in mind. And, of course, the bonus boost to their Ego; there is no “I” in “team”.

In politics, it has to be clear what you stand for and what your policies are. However, it is not smart politics to give away too much detail and information (assuming it exists) and give the opposition a rod with which to hit you. In a climate of partisan politics constructive criticism has no major role to play either as it might give away too much of the good stuff; better to keep your powder dry for when you are in power.

Anything that might be or become useful is heavily guarded – knowledge is power, after all. Under the no-surprises policy, much information is hidden and obfuscated and you’ll have more luck pulling a wisdom tooth with a pair of tweezers than getting any useful information out of local or central government. Transparency and accountability have lost much of their meaning and as a result, public trust is eroding rapidly.

Interviewers working for MSM love tripping up politicians and they create all sorts of traps to score a gotcha moment. Members of the Opposition try do the same, because that’s their job after all, isn’t it? It all feels like rugby tackles to slow down progress and prevent the other side from scoring. No wonder it so popular here.

On this site many feel the need to go hard and call out fake news, false or misleading claims, and other ‘indiscretions’ by and from other commenters; they must be held accountable. However, they tend to forget adding something constructive in their comments. This almost militant mentality creates an atmosphere that is not conducive to robust debate. Even in rugby, the point is to put some scores on the board, not just tackling.

This is not limited to Lefties vs. Righties. Lefties are infamous for their infighting inconveniently forgetting that they are on the same side, supposedly. The Right might be splintering on Climate Change but the Left is splintering on being the Left. There seems to be fault line between people on the Left who advocate kindness, positivity, and collaboration and those who prefer to stick with the combative way of partisan politics (AKA BAU). It is not progressive politics if you let a bunch of neo-cons (for want of a better word in the NZ context) control the narrative and dictate the game and rules of engagement. Personally, I think it is profoundly foolish and counter-productive in the long run.

Nobody should expect perfection and a positive approach is telling people what you stand for, with some detail, rather than what not and have go after go at the presumed enemy even when they are on the same team.

34 comments on “Constructive Criticism and Team Work In Politics”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Yes, well done, you've delineated what's wrong with political culture. No win/win thinking, when old-fashioned partisan attitudes prevail. Compounded with individualist one-eyed focus on personal priorities, with no attention whatsoever directed at the common ground people share.

    Egos are part of us, but we need not allow them to operate as tyrants. I do blame capitalism for breeding excessive competition into those who oppose capitalism – it's the ethos, which infiltrates the psyche subtly, so that the conscious mind doesn't notice.

    • You're actually a wise old owl at times eh Dennis. ",,,,,,,individualist one-eyed focus on personal priorities….." and egos that allow people to operate as tyrants.

      Excessive competition and ambition that encourages us to try and be better than the other, rather than the best we (individually) can be. 30 years of being told greed is good. Never be satisfied with what you've got. Consume consume consume. Compete compete compete, Growth growth growth

      It all now even transcends people's religions and faiths.

      • Dennis Frank 1.1.1

        As I see it, Tim, older folks ought to pass on what they learn – otherwise what use are they? The paradox of that stuff I wrote lies in the personal context of having once been the archetypal ego-driven individualist. Out of necessity, emerging from a generation of kids so repressed into conformity that rebellion was the only survival option.

        So nowadays there's an irony in seeing the downside of everyone jumping on that bandwagon eventually. And yeah, as you say, the economic ideology that feeds off the focus on ego. Sounds like you may have experience and/or learning similarly, enough to resonate with me. Think it was the Greens acknowledging the communal dimension 30 years ago, then the gfc making me aware that it needed to be emphasised, got me lucid about the social pendulum having reached the extremity of individualism and now heading back to collectivism…

        • OnceWasTim 1.1.1.1

          Yep.
          I find the whole unrestrained ego thing QI especially when coupled with an uber competitiveness (i.e. to compete in order to constantly out-do the other, rather than to simply better oneself).
          It's the driver of Empires, exceptionalism, and generally just bad behaviour towards others.
          When you delve into the likes of a Bolsenaro, a Modi, a Xi, a Putin, an MBS, a Netanyahu, any number of African leaders wanting extend their term limits, ISIS leaders, a Tangerine Turkey or a Boris Buffoon, they share a lot in common and the outcomes are likely to be pretty much the same. (We, i.e. 'lil 'ole NuZull that punches above its weight have our own versions)
          And nor is it peculiar to the male of the species unfortunately, or to politicians. There are religious leaders, corporate managers, and generally just the sociopathic (Grace Millane's killer springs to mind). And often what starts out with mild cases of those character traits some find necessary to survive (mild criminality), can soon become out of control when the benefits and treats and trinkets that result too hard to give up.

          I've almost come to the conclusion that we're probably just going to have to let it all play out. In your case it appears the GFC last decade might have been the trigger. For me, it happened a lot earlier, when working in the banking sector in IT at a time when the neo-liberal agenda was just taking hold. Then later, reinforced when returning to the Public Service. Egos the size of a Wellington dirty-deisel double decker bus couldn't begin to describe some of the people I've encountered.

          It's quite possible capitalism (i.e crony capitalisim) might have to just disappear up its own arse; Australia will have to have the majority of its animal population go extinct; a few more 'minorities' will have to be persecuted to the point of death (by way of ethnic cleansing); there'll have to be a few more 737MAX-like crashes; and so on…………

          You know there's that saying (whether or not it was actually said), that "History doesn't repeat, but it often rhymes" seems pertinent at the moment. History is important because it shapes and teaches us.
          But unfortunately there's ideology (such as neoliberalism – which I think David Lange alluded to in 'My Life' and described as being in the nature of a religion by its disciples) that prevents lessons being learned.
          (Or should I say "learnings, in this space, going forward") There’s a whole language complete with justifications for it all

          By the way – you watch how many comments @ INCOGNITO gets on this post. I'll bet it is relatively ummm slender – so far it's in the 30s

          • Dennis Frank 1.1.1.1.1

            watch how many comments @ INCOGNITO gets on this post. I'll bet it is relatively ummm slender – so far it's in the 30s

            Actually not bad considering the slow start. But yeah, most folks here aren't into the deep thought-provoking stuff. I think of them as surface-skaters.

            working in the banking sector in IT at a time when the neo-liberal agenda was just taking hold

            Late '80s, the culture shift out of residual socialism. I thought it a joke at the time (back to the future) since the obvious thing to do was make progress instead. However my inner pragmatist could see that market disciplines were helpful is some respects – had to dissociate from the replacement of one form of banality by another of course – and freedom of choice is a perennial necessity, which motivates individualism…

            History is important because it shapes and teaches us

            Always, and currently our learning curve is the nexus where identity politics, tribalism, media & economy intersect. http://www.librarist.com/nz/book/9781502769336

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Okay, three hours up & it's starting to look like being constructive and working in teams is too difficult a combination for folks here to get their heads around!

    Google did find this, republished from the original site where it showed up Oct 14, 2017: https://www.15five.com/blog/how-politics-impact-workplace-teamwork-productivity/

    "Political tensions in the workplace were high during last year’s election cycle, with 26% of employers sensing greater political volatility and 57% of Americans saying the political climate within their work culture caused them stress. Nearly a year after the presidential election, political friction remains in workplaces and is affecting employee performance:

    31% of workers say their company’s productivity level has decreased because of political expressions.

    31% of people have witnessed co-workers arguing about politics."

    Author reckons "enforcing a ban on political discussions is nearly impossible, unless you want to establish a culture of micromanagement, intrusive monitoring, and incessant finger-pointing among employees."

    Employees will respond "too late already" or "had that since the '80s". Author: "Being able to safely express feelings at the office isn’t unprofessional, it’s humane." Anyone ever counted the number of bosses who are humanitarian?

    "When Richard Dukas, CEO of Dukas Linden Public Relations in New York, noticed an uptick in political discussions at the office, he brought it up in a staff meeting. The purpose wasn’t to shut down the talk, but rather to keep it civil, he told CBS News."

    "For many people, time at work is the only time to engage with people with differing political views." You bet. I always created plenty of interesting conversations. Mind you, I often had to overcome resistance initially, and there's an art to that.

    "In a Harvard Business Review article, Whitney McCarthy, a Democrat who works at a Salt Lake City-based software company, shared how she approached one of her Republican co-workers during the election to better understand his views. Though she wholeheartedly disagrees with him, they remain cordial and even playfully joke with each other because they are such opposites."

    Exactly the right attitude. People like to be approached with a genuine interest, in a sincere way. "If you’re going to chat politics, find common ground first and emphasize your similarities instead of your differences. If the discussion on a particular topic escalates, you can always circle back to the commonality and end on a positive note that won’t result in a lasting negative attitude in the workplace."

    • Incognito 2.1

      Thanks Dennis.

      I’m not concerned about the low number of comments and it is neither an incentive nor a motivator for me to author posts, comment, or moderate here 🙂

      Avoiding ‘tensions’ at work (and elsewhere) is one reason why I don’t use my real name here 😉

      • Dennis Frank 2.1.1

        It sure bothered me this time yesterday. Okay, we'll be dead come crunch-time, but for younger generations political collaboration in general and the creation of consensus in particular will be absolutely essential. People ought to be acquiring the requisite skills right about now, as sensible preparation.

        Instead, they seem to be using identity politics to polarise against each other. Almost as if they want younger generations to become an even bigger bunch of retards than my parents' generation!!

        Huh. Opposite to what the hippies envisaged! Well, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, so perhaps fatalism will become inevitable. I wonder if Greta uses a peer-group as support, or if she will fall victim to the curse of individualism and merely try to lead by example. Us hippies were ego-driven too, but we did aspire to community. One can do both simultaneously…

      • OnceWasTim 2.1.2

        Hopefully you weren't thinking that I was suggesting the number of comments was a motivator or incentive for your posts. But it can be an indicator of what people that come to the site consider to be important.

        To my mind, this post is something that should exercise people's minds if we're ever to get over the current political landscape (let alone ourselves).

        Instead, people seem to be getting more mental exercise out of Mike Moore. Nice bloke, intentions were good and noble – shame he succumbed, and our children are now worse off (generally) than their parents – great legacy – journalists will offer their deep and meaningful experiences with him (often re-inventint history to suit a narrative) – committed – loyal – full of bright ideas ………. next

  3. Rapunzel 3

    So what am I? I'm not going to be voting "right" & that's down to my reasoning – I even changed to the Maori roll because, mainly technically through my gr-gr-grandmother, I could. I live in Tauranga so that also had a bearing on how I want my vote to be "useful". I would say then I am a leftie with some flexibility. I'm not in-fighting with anyone and neither is anyone I know & our thoughts and votes are as important as anyone elses are.

    • A 3.1

      I'm on the Maori roll too for privacy reasons. Why is it the government insists we make personal information public in this day and age is beyond me.

      Back to the topic. If we had politicians that saw positive intent behind actions of others, and focused on outcomes instead of the ongoing attacks against each other we would have an extraordinary government.

      It's great…actually a relief to see a kind yet strong force in power.

    • weka 3.2

      You vote on the left or centre and you don't do infighting? That seems clear what you are politically.

  4. Blazer 4

    In politics winning is everything.

    Feel good slogans and vague emotive messages are no match for …hardball.

    The evidence is everywhere.

    • Incognito 4.1

      You might as well say “in life, winning is everything”.

      “Politics is a continuation of war by other means” [attributed to Michel Foucault] and (most) people don’t like war, do they?

      But I digress.

      Paraphrasing Paul Krugman (see MickySavage’s post):

      It is a zombie idea that should have died long ago with the introduction of MMP and in the face of negative evidence, but just keeps shambling along, eating peoples' brains.

      Nobody ‘wins’ under MMP and even the ‘winner’ can end up being a ‘loser’; just ask National and many National supporters how Winston Peters ‘stole’ the election from them.

      Lately, there have been a series of ‘opinion pieces’ in Stuff on the only viable path for National to ‘win’ the coming election, which is to annihilate NZF. They don’t intend to ‘win’ by policy and values but by killing off legitimate representation in NZ Parliament and undoubtedly coat-tailing a few others into Parliament that have much smaller constituency than NZF.

      BAU, Left-Right-Left-Right-Left- …

      Attack politics is not smart, not effective (unless you prefer BAU and/or FPP), and most certainly not efficient given that most pressing problems scream out for non-partisan solutions.

  5. Billy 5

    Bravo, Dennis!

  6. Gosman 6

    What exactly is wrong with a confrontational negative approach to politics? Ultimately people will compromise on important matters but pointing out the negatives of an approach should ensure the political grouping pushing for it are aware of the potential downside and therefore can make allowances for it. It is when we end up with one big positive group think that monumental dumb decisions are made.

    • Dennis Frank 6.1

      It tends to become destructive (rather than constructive). For instance, gridlock in USA government replaced constructive collaboration between liberal democrats & liberal republicans.

      Groupthink is bad. Political decisions must be contestable. However political culture has become fraught due to the personal inadequacies of those involved. They have allowed polarisation to become the norm due to tacit acceptance of zero-sum logic. Problem-solving in the social sphere usually requires collaboration, teamwork. Sure, it takes someone clever to figure out the best solution, but then others need to accept it. Extending consensus takes social skills – which binary politicos lack.

      • Gosman 6.1.1

        In my opinion much of the damage occurs when either side starts blaming the other side for the ills of the World and debates become totally polarising. You see that on various media outlets such as Fox news and in Political Blogs like The Standard.

        That is why it is important to focus on the ideas and not the opponent. Too often people are attacked merely because they are from a political ideology rather than what they are stating about a topic.

        • Dennis Frank 6.1.1.1

          Yes, exactly. Play the ball, not the man – a notion that has been around awhile. https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/10/messages/126.html

          Point-scoring is human nature – competitive sport. But progress in politics comes from catalysing consensus, and reasoning is useful in making that happen. Idealogy, in contrast, tries to force everyone into a single conceptual frame. Human nature rebels against such confinement!

        • Incognito 6.1.1.2

          That is why it is important to focus on the ideas and not the opponent. Too often people are attacked merely because they are from a political ideology rather than what they are stating about a topic.

          Exactly!

          Blaming and shaming are hallmarks of an exercise in negativity. Taking responsibility, owning your mistakes and learning from them, and admitting that you don’t know and cannot know everything are some of the positive steps you can take towards a more positive outcome.

        • Drowsy M. Kram 6.1.1.3

          "That is why it is important to focus on the ideas and not the opponent."

          That's a good point, Gosman. Care to take an objective stab at whether the 'Dirty Politics' initiative, run out of the Beehive at the behest of the Right Honourable (now Sir) John Key, was focused mostly on 'ideas', or mostly on 'the opponent'?

          Indeed, if you had to rank the current NZ political parties and politicians in terms of your 'focus axis', how do you think the main opposition party would fair?

          Zip it, sweetielaugh

    • Incognito 6.2

      Ok, let’s do it your way and see whether you want to play ball.

      Constructive criticism, from within and from outside, and teamwork are not “one big positive group think” that leads to “monumental dumb decisions”. That is one of the implicit messages I tried to get across in the post.

      Simply put, negative does not work, it does not achieve anything in practical tangible terms, and only serves to nullify and neutralise positive.

      With every approach, you have to weigh up (evaluate) the pros and the cons, the good and the bad, the up- and downsides, the intended and unintended consequences, and the desired and undesired outcome(s) to put it in binary language that so many seem to be used to.

      A confrontational approach with only negatives is just that; it does not add or build anything and ignores common ground for negotiation and consensus. It is simply shouting or barking at each passing car in the hope that the driver will swerve and crash the car. Yelling at a pedestrian to not cross the road because there is a truck approaching is potentially saving their life. Get it?

      The way almost everything is politicised nowadays means that almost everything is framed as good or bad. Their policy is bad but we are better managers and will deliver for all New Zealanders. Sounds familiar? How is that constructive or helpful? The same applies to confrontational negative behaviours within a team. They undermine the team spirit and effectively sabotage the team’s efforts.

      My thesis is simple: if you cannot give constructive criticism, then you are not a team player and there is no place for you in politics. And I’d say the same about areas other than politics.

      • Gosman 6.2.1

        This idea of "constructive criticism" is largely subjective in my opinion. My pointing out flaws in an idea is just as constructive if I pushed an alternative solution instead.

        • Incognito 6.2.1.1

          Sure, there’s an element of subjectivity but pointing out “flaws” is only one side of the coin and you still need the toss it over. As I said, you need both together; either one in isolation is missing an essential part of the whole. This seems to be missing more and more from political discourse and it shows.

      • Blazer 6.2.2

        Was Nationals rowing advert ….negative or..positive?

        • Drowsy M. Kram 6.2.2.1

          The National party's rowing ad contained unconstructive criticism of opposition parties – that's negative, IMHO.

          After the 2017 general election, three of those opposition parties ‘rowed together‘ to form NZ’s current government. Who would have thunk it – obviously not National party MPs, along with the majority of National voters.

        • Incognito 6.2.2.2

          I haven’t seen the ad in ages but as far as my memory serves me right:

          • It was in breach of copyright (Eminem song).
          • It was during the heydays of Dirty Politics.
          • It was classical fear- mongering; NZF was bound to be kingmaker (again) and did not feature anywhere whilst Internet/Mana never even made it into Parliament. What’s more, National formed a Government with three (!) minor parties, two of which it killed off and the third is on terminal life-support.
          • There was nothing positive or redeeming about it.
  7. Sacha 7

    The construction sector strategic plan is one example of working together across traditional divides. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/408230/government-s-new-plan-seeks-to-tackle-construction-sector-issues

    The plan promises a more even-handed approach: the government offering simpler, shorter contracts and businesses committing to train more staff.

    Master Builders chief executive David Kelly is on the group overseeing the new strategy and told RNZ it was chiefly about a shift in attitude on both sides.

    "The attitude too often has been, 'the only way for me to do well is to undermine the other party'," Kelly said.

    "What this says is, actually, that's a really bad way of thinking about how to do business. A good way to do business is to say, 'I want to succeed, but in order to do that, all the other parties have got to do well also'."

    • Incognito 7.1

      Nice one, ta.

      Interestingly, the usual suspects have not (yet) ripped this plan to shreds. Even National is surprisingly timid on it!?

      • Sacha 7.1.1

        Hardly any media pickup yet. Maybe that's what yesterday's online flood of nasty was for?

  8. weka 8

    Largely agree with what you are saying here Incognito, and think more active demonstrations would help.

    There's the issue for TS of the continuing balance point between robust debate and that being constructive rather then destructive or a political eddy that goes nowhere. The reason people are here probably plays into that. I argue because I enjoy it, but also because it helps me learn, both about how other people think and why, and how I think and why, so robust/constructive works well for me. But the reasons people are here varies quite a lot.

  9. weka 9

    There seems to be fault line between people on the Left who advocate kindness, positivity, and collaboration and those who prefer to stick with the combative way of partisan politics (AKA BAU). It is not progressive politics if you let a bunch of neo-cons (for want of a better word in the NZ context) control the narrative and dictate the game and rules of engagement. Personally, I think it is profoundly foolish and counter-productive in the long run.

    Are you suggestion that the neo-cons are the ones with the cultural embed of combative, partisan politics? Because I think the left has a still strong culture of hard man politics that tends to bash people it disagrees with. That's changing, but it's still there. Still a lot of I'm right and your wrong stuff too.

    I see the new politics as based in relationship and networks rather than ideology and having to be right. This is a challenge because we are so used to our ideals and values being dependent upon being right, so it's hard maybe to allow that we can have good working relationships with people that think differently from us or have different values.

    There's also a tendency to see compassion and conciliatory politics as weak. Which I think is why the Greens get a hard time from the left, where people see power plays as the way to get things done. I do think the Greens has a learning edge around being strong, even staunch and conciliatory at the same time, but that's true for all of us.

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