Nothing About Me Without Me

January 29, 2018 by
Filed under: People, Quality, Teamwork 

I was working with a group of researchers recently, exploring the value of their contributions in the work they have been doing, with the intent of clarifying both the impact of their outcomes and how they uniquely shaped that impact. At one point, the conversation took an insightful turn.

One of the researchers has been working with the aboriginal community, and he used the phrase “nothing about me without me”, which very succinctly expresses the essence of work in that context. Success, progress, whatever ‘business goals’ you are seeking when working in this context is predicated by a deep need for inclusion, trust, respect, and open and complete communication. If there’s any discussion that might impact me, I want to be part of that discussion.

After the session, a quick search revealed the origin of that phrase comes from the medical field, in the context of patient-practitioner communication around selection of a course of action: if there’s a decision about what is going to be done with me, I want to be part of the conversation.

To understand the options, to advocate for my wants and needs, to have a stake in the decision and take ownership of the outcomes.

Think about it, though, this is a phrase that is relevant in any situation that involves a broad range of stakeholders. Full inclusion by anyone impacted in a decision removes any fuzziness that might arise by proxy representation, adds a critical perspective to expand the range of alternatives to be considered, and engenders ownership in the outcome. A better solution and less recrimination should something go awry.

“Nothing About Me Without Me” is a succinct phrase that expresses the intent behind true consensus, and should be respected whenever we want contribution and buy-in from a diverse group.

In the business world, we have a tendency to ‘divide and conquer’ a bit too much in the name of efficiency. An individual puts together a best guess at a project plan, someone fills in a document template and thinks that step is complete, a critical decision is made without the right people in the room because of the apparent pressure to ‘do something’. These apparently efficient decisions often come back to haunt us.

Instead, we need to ask ourselves who needs to be part of this decision, a participant in the conversation that should be had. Who is this about? – JB


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    Another excellent article – we were just discussing this very subject in a course I recently taught. I forwarded your article to everyone in the class, so you might expect a few more subscribers soon…

    — Bruce Butler, PEng, Senior Systems Engineer, Modular Mining Systems Canada