A photo of a person picking up a book of Hitler from a library.

Democracy vs. Dictatorship in the Workplace

How to recognize if someone is being a totalitarian dictator at work and turn it into a democracy.

“Metamorphic” is my description of Chris Argyris’s discussion at Harvard. Chris had an exceptional power to act by holding a mirror and showing his pupil that they were not as courteous as they believed to be.

Chris found that people who run organisations function in harmony with one of two patterns: totalitarian dictatorship or collective development.

People who run organisations and rule through totalitarian dictatorship presume that they are always correct, and people who hold different opinions are incorrect; collective developers presume that different opinions could be correct and worth delving into.

Chris identified that all people who run organisations he studied functioned in harmony with the totalitarian dictatorship method. It took severe rearranging and ability training to change to the collective development method.

By all means, we were not people who run organisations. We were pupil in pursuit of individual and administrative growth. Our concept was that we were merely learning.

Chris made us re-think. Wanting to know about our personal circumstances of challenging communications, he demonstrated that when times got rough, we morphed into totalitarian dictators.

My ego-smashing mirror was a nightfall discussion with my mom on a Sunday, which I mentioned to the group first thing on Monday. On one side, I put things down on paper about what my mom and I discussed. On the other side, what went through my mind and my emotions which I didn’t speak-out on Sunday.

Over two decades of executive training and advising, I found Argyris’s approach and his differentiation between totalitarian dictatorship and collective development priceless to detect administrative impairments. I give my clients the descriptions beneath and request that they jot-down their two-sided cases of challenging communications on paper.

In the same way, I urge you to study the descriptions beneath, think of a challenging communication and identify which boot fits. Or a suggestion of correction, when the totalitarian boot fits you.

What is a totalitarian dictatorship in the workplace?

Dozens of cameras on a wall surveilling people who walk past.

Totalitarian dictatorship at work is based on three beliefs:

  1. I’m enlightened. The position from which I observe things is fair; it’s not darkened by empathy or affected by intimate matters. I identify things the way they are.
  2. The rest are different. Those who express a different opinion are not of sound mind. They are blind and affixed to their underlying intentions or motives. They don’t have a desire to perceive that which is true or in accordance with reality.
  3. Chaos drives people. Whenever things go in an unsuitable or undesirable direction, some person should be obliged to declare that they are responsible. That individual ought to experience or be subjected to unpleasant repercussions. An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm due to the lack of success encourages favourable outcomes.

These beliefs influence five actions:

  1. Pick objectives and game-plans with favouritism. Don’t use or expend time carelessly attempting to discuss accepted objectives and game-plans. Enforce the “correct” objectives (which are, my objectives) and the “correct” game-plans (which are, my game-plans) to obtain them.
  2. Be victorious over every alternative. Good performance takes boldness. Carry my objectives and game-plans and defeat any competition. Altering my thoughts is an indication of instability. Take care of people who assist me in hitting my targets. Cripple groups who do not.
  3. Cleverly or unscrupulously control facts. Hand-over facts that back-up my debate alone. Conceal those that disagree. The only significant data is that which benefits me in persuading other people that I am correct and they are incorrect. Do not investigate or grant permission to others to convey propositions that give way to contrasting outcomes.
  4. Depend on exterior encouragement. Intimidate men and women with drastic reactions if they do not do as I say, and vow to award those who do. Use my power to persuade people I am correct. Preserve my dignity no matter what.
  5. Cover up emotions. Success is a result of strong thoughts, not emotions. Acting through feelings shows a lack of ability and deficiency. Do not convey my feelings and dishearten other people from conveying theirs. Move carefully to fend off emotions that are not optimistic.

Here’s a short and exaggerated example of totalitarian dictatorship at work, from the movie Horrible Bosses:

How Collective Development Can Keep You Out of Trouble

The collective development method is based on three differing beliefs:

  1. I have finite beliefs, abilities, and talents. The position from which I observe things is intuitive; it is governed by feelings and affected by individual agitations. I discern things as they are presented to me. My trust, faith, and confidence in things are reasonable theories — open to the idea that they may not be true at all times.
  2. Others fill the gaps. Those who express a different opinion from me are in accordance with logic. They may know things that I do not, or be affected by things I don´t understand. They can add extra information that can update my outlook and make it more effective.
  3. Knowledge and development are stimulative. A flaw is a jewel. Like a syndrome that uncovers a hidden disease and permits its remedy, an error is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to check and better the procedure that caused it.

These differing beliefs influence five actions:

  1. Pick goals and game-plans by mutual consent. Devote time towards agreeing shared objectives and game-plans: the higher the state of including others, the higher the insight — and the higher the involvement. Attempt to find a general agreement on goals and game-plans to accomplish them.
  2. Be successful with other people. Good performance takes coöperation and adaptability. Take care of and appreciate people who perceive things in another way. Question their mental analysis and approach. If you identify their perceptions as persuasive, take them up; if you do not, give a reason. Altering your thoughts is an indication of broad-mindedness and durability.
  3. Share facts. Establish my opinions and hear what others have to say. Share my knowledge, my logic, and my purpose with other people so that they can arrive at their own outcome. Initiate settings for communication that is not closed or blocked so that people feel welcome to do the same. Inspire collective explorations.
  4. Depend on inner assurance. Approve free and knowledgeable decisions. Produce paramount data and nominal intimidation to make it easier for people to choose how to gratify their needs and curiosities. Inspire people to have a duty to deal with or have control over their decisions.
  5. Come to recognize emotions as valid. The nature or essence of people is emotional, so emotions are urgently important elements of the manner in which we conduct ourselves. Articulate my feelings and embolden other people to articulate theirs. Regard these emotions as valid and valuable to take notice of.

Here is Chris Argyris describing another one of his theory in six minutes.

Editor: Derin Cag (Founder and CEO at Richtopia)

Richtopia menu background (mobile)