From Trouble-Maker To Invaluable Corporate Resource
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The Transition From Being A Trouble-Maker To An Invaluable Corporate Resource

While we might fantasise about playing a key part in a corporate version of 'The Dirty Dozen' or 'Kelly’s Heroes', fiction and real-life are not the same thing. We need to find a real-world solution to the challenges posed by being seen as a rebel or trouble-maker at work.

Derek Mitchell, Head of Insight and Analytics – Employee L&D at the media company, Sky, says that 'rebels' want their boss to recognise that they:

  1. Aren’t trouble-makers. Rather, they’re motivated to make the organisation better.
  2. Care about work more than others do. That’s why they’re willing to engage in conflict about it.
  3. Are being courageous and risk-taking. Rebelliousness is a positive behaviour.
  4. May be idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but that’s a good thing.
  5. Don’t need placating or being told platitudes, such as "there’s no budget" or "there aren’t enough resources".
  6. Need an environment where it’s safe to disagree and challenge the status quo.
  7. Need their boss to love their differences and quirks.
  8. Need to be challenged. Give them the thorniest problems. Let them prove their wild ideas at work. They want to be stretched.
  9. Need coaching on how to navigate organisational politics. Not so that they won’t engage in conflict but, rather, so that they avoid making mistakes.
  10. Need to be appreciated – so they’ll move mountains for you.

"While these are ideal 'boss responses', we all live in the real-world, so these 10 things are unlikely to happen," says eLearning market analyst, Learning Light’s David Patterson. "Consequently, the challenge for anyone labelled as a 'rebel' or 'trouble-maker' is to change organisational perceptions."

Ways to do this aren’t new. They were established several thousand years ago. But they’re not widely known and are practised even less.

The Institutio Oratoria

Around 95CE, a Roman, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus – known to history as Quintilian – wrote a series of 12 books called "Institutio Oratoria". These contained a teaching process devised by Roman schoolmasters based on a close relationship between reading, speaking, and writing.

Quintilian examined theories of:

  • Value
    What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are education’s goals?
  • Knowledge
    What’s knowledge? How does it differ from belief? What’s a mistake? What’s a lie?
  • Human Nature
    What’s a human being? How does humanity differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?
  • Learning
    What’s learning? How are the skills and knowledge acquired?
  • Transmission
    Who can teach? By what methods? What should the curriculum be?
  • Society
    What’s society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?
  • Opportunity
    Who’s to be educated?
  • Consensus
    Why do people disagree? How’s consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

When deciding who is, or isn’t, a 'troublemaker', Quintilian believes it’s a waste of time to explain the root of any disagreement because it’s "obvious what should be said against injustice, avarice... and to say everything about all these is an infinite task, just as infinite as trying to expound all the Questions, Arguments and Thoughts involved in everyday controversy".

To achieve consensus—by arguing the point well, using the necessary skills and tools—Quintilian advises, "the strongest arguments should be pressed individually, the weaker ones massed together…".

How To Get Agreement

Over the next 2000 years or so, Quintilian’s views influenced figures as diverse as Cicero, Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Milton, John Stuart Mill, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy. What these (and other) people learned from the process Quintilian outlined was how to get people to agree with them and do what they wanted.

That involves using the power of persuasion set out in the rules of rhetoric, spoken and written, which are part of the skills of oratory. Able exponents of these rules include Shakespeare, one of the English language’s greatest communicators.

Armed with these tools, explained in Mark Forsyth’s book, 'The Elements of Eloquence', you can set about replacing the 'trouble-maker' label with a reputation for being an 'invaluable corporate resource'. It’s done by using these tools to address the 3 modes of persuasion, sometimes known as the 3 artistic proofs: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.

1. Ethos

'Ethos', which is the Greek word for 'character', is the way to convince an audience of your credibility or character. It’s how you establish the credibility of what you want to talk about. It involves convincing your audience that you’re intelligent and can be trusted.

Arguably, this appeal is the most difficult to establish. You must prove yourself by demonstrating that you understand what you’re arguing.

You can do it by choosing and using words that are appropriate for the topic and your audience, making yourself sound fair or unbiased, introducing your expertise or pedigree, and by using correct grammar and syntax.

2. Logos

Logos, the Greek word for 'word', which means logical argument, citing facts and statistics, historical and literal analogies, as well as 'authorities' on the subject under discussion.

You can use advanced, theoretical or abstract language to appeal to the audience’s intelligence and reason. You should offer such evidence as:

  • Facts
    These are valuable because they’re not debatable. They represent the truth.
  • Examples
    Events or circumstances to which your audience can relate.
  • Precedents
    Specific examples from the past.
  • Authority
    This must be timely (not outdated), and qualified to judge the topic.
  • Deductive/Inductive
    Deductive reasoning means picking apart evidence to reach conclusions, and inductive reasoning involves adding logical pieces to the evidence to reach conclusions.

3. Pathos

Pathos, the Greek word for both 'suffering' and 'experience', aims to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions. You use pathos to invoke sympathy from an audience and/or to make the audience feel what you want them to feel. Pathos is the result of using meaningful language, emotional tone, and emotion-evoking examples as well as stories of emotional event, and implied meanings.

So, changing organizational perceptions may be a challenge but, using time-honored methods, it can be done.

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