Research by organizational learning theorists Argyris & Schon demonstrates that, in most organizations, the interactions among members, especially during times of embarrassing or threatening problems, will be dictated by tactics to save face by suppressing real feelings, telling white lies or withholding valuable information. People will tend to persuade and cajole others to agree with their interpretation of a situation and use personal power/authority to prevent others from acting in ways that might leave oneself vulnerable. The negatives motives attributed to people will go entirely untested since its discussion would cause embarrassment. One consequence is misunderstandings between individuals. Such a mental model, at both organizational and individual levels, sharpens organizational defensive routines, that is “any policy or action that prevent someone from experiencing embarrassment or threat, and simultaneously prevents anyone from correcting the cause of embarrassment or threat”. Such routines are anti-learning and overprotective, and “encourage individuals to keep private the premises, inferences, and conclusions that shape their behavior and to avoid testing them in a truly independent, objective fashion”. Of course, the outcome of such defensive routines is to cover up errors and mistakes and manage individual impressions.
The alternate: growth and learning oriented mental model is one where people act in ways that enable others to infer and interpret the meaning in their actions as accurately as possible. This may involve for example, providing others with accurate reports of how they are feeling or thinking, rather than withholding this data. There is an emphasis in this model on individuals taking responsibility for their actions. Because as Argyris wisely noted people do not just happen to act in a particular way. Rather their action is designed and as agents, they are responsible for the design.