Healthy scepticsm or destructive cynicsm?

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I’ve been reflecting on the difference between scepticism and cynicsm as I work on some of the material for our upcoming 360 feedback seminar.  We like to focus with our clients on how processes are sustainable.  If 360 degree feedback or performance appraisal is handled badly then it generates cynicism.  And cynicism is destructive and very difficult to come back from.

I picked up a definition of sceptics in my research as follows

“Skeptics require additional evidence before accepting someone’s claims as true. They are willing to challenge the status quo with open-minded, deep questioning of authority”

What is interesting about this definition is that if your team or organisation has sceptics in it then it simply challenges you to provide evidence and not rely on command and control to convince them of your argument.  A wholly reasonable request.  If you are introducing 360 degree feedback to a sceptical team, or handling an individual debrief with a sceptic then you can expect to be challenged but provided your intention is correct and you are prepared then you should be confident that a good outcome will follow.

Here is a definition of a cynic

“A cynic distrusts most information they see or hear, particularly when it challenges their own belief system. Most often, cynics hold views that cannot be changed by contrary evidence.”

Probably best to start by not recruiting too many cynics!  However, all of us will have seen people with some tendencies in that direction become firm cynics having watched an organisation act in a manner that was wrong and broke trust and have suffered true injustices.  Many of us may at times be cynical of the intentions of the leaders of our national press, and leaders of some banking institutions.  When trust is broken over a period of time and lessons not learnt then cynicism can be a difficult response to avoid.

On reflection then; scepticism can be encouraged and welcomed.  Cynicism is destructive and to be avoided.  When establishing our performance appraisal processes and 360 degree feedback exercises we would do well to remember this – listen to the sceptics, don’t act in a way that leads to cynicism.

Brendan

(quotes came from a blog article http://expanded–consciousness.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-art-of-positive-skepticism-skeptic.html .  I don’t know the blog generally – but the definitions for this article were excellent!)

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