We Agree: Speeches All Around!

In the Cata­lan au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of James I Llibre dels Fets, King James of­ten de­scribes the ad­vice given to him by differ­ent no­bles and princes of the Church (read bishops). Of­ten­times they dis­agree; some­times he turns out right, and some­times they turn out the wiser coun­sel­lors. Schol­ars of­ten re­gard this fre­quent de­ci­sion-mak­ing di­alogue as ev­i­dence that James wanted not only to give an ac­count of the great ac­com­plish­ments of his life, but also provide in­sight for fu­ture kings and ministers of Aragon-Cat­alo­nia. There is much to say about the na­ture of this ad­vice, the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal rea­son­ing, the difficulty of pass­ing down ra­tio­nal states­man­ship, and in­ter­ro­ga­tion into just how “ra­tio­nal” this states­man­ship ac­tu­ally was.

I am not go­ing to fo­cus on those is­sues. In­stead, I want to bring to light a com­mon knowl­edge dy­namic I no­ticed in this book that res­onated in my daily life.

My day job re­quires a lot of meet­ings. Of­ten­times in these meet­ings my col­leagues and I will hit on an agreed course of ac­tion, but then in­stead of say­ing, “We are agreed. Let’s go!” We will con­tinue talk­ing our­selves into the de­ci­sion. Once a de­ci­sion has been reached, each per­son in­ex­pli­ca­bly waxes po­etic about their own rea­son for why they be­lieve this is a good or right de­ci­sion. This hap­pens quite fre­quently, I do not think any­one rec­og­nizes it as weird. To be clear, this is not part of some in-house “Guideline For De­ci­sion-Mak­ing”; it is a spon­ta­neous event of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.

Up un­til this week, I thought this ex­er­cise was ei­ther an at­tempt to cover up un­cer­tainty or a waste of time. But per­haps there is some util­ity here. Is this prac­tice a way cre­at­ing more agreeance? Con­grat­u­lat­ing our­selves on be­ing in charge? What’s the deal? Is it a way of re­build­ing bonds that may have been strained over the course of dis­cus­sion? Or is it just a ‘Mid­west­ern USA’ thing?

James I helped me see the light. Be­fore the in­va­sion of the is­land of Mal­lorca, the Corts and coun­cils con­vened to de­cide whether to in­vade. Into the mouths of a no­ble mer­chant, a gen­eral, a landed aris­to­crat, and a bishop ad­di­tional words of ap­proval came af­ter they had already de­cided to launch this cam­paign. Since the cam­paign had already been ap­proved in prior dis­cus­sion by lead­ing par­ties, why do they need more words of ap­proval again af­ter the de­ci­sion has been made?

I think the an­swer is that al­though these speeches might be bor­ing to read or a seem­ing waste of a Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at work, they also provide an ad­di­tional fact for ev­ery­one pre­sent. We know that ev­ery­one ap­proves the course of ac­tion. Now in ad­di­tion, we also know why ev­ery­one ap­proves the course of ac­tion, what their slant, and what their mo­ti­va­tions. From these, we can ad­just our be­liefs about to what ex­tent and un­der what cir­cum­stances the other ac­tors will sup­port the course of ac­tion – how far are the oth­ers will­ing to go to sup­port this? This ad­di­tional knowl­edge should fa­cil­i­tate fu­ture coal­i­tions, strat­egy, and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. The more we un­der­stand each other’s mo­ti­va­tions, the more we can com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively, find shared goals, and cre­ate a dy­namic or­ga­ni­za­tion, one which can con­quer west­ern Med­iter­ranean is­lands.

Next time, you are im­pa­tient hear­ing the rea­sons for a course of ac­tion you already agree with, it’s not the course of ac­tion which you can learn about, but com­mon knowl­edge about the mo­ti­va­tions and in­ter­ests of other ac­tors. Com­mon knowl­edge about in­ten­tions within the coal­i­tion is the first step to sus­tained con­quests… err suc­cess.

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