Paradoxical Interventions

by Jan Yuill

I became thoroughly engrossed in the recent Paradoxical Intervention thread on the www.ODNET.org Main List.

I know nothing about it as an formal intervention strategy, but I was intrigued by the examples that Allon shared on Jan. 18:

1. an insomniac that must organize his life without sleep

2. a fat person must eat more

3. a licentious person must sleep around more

4. the hotel management team’s arrogance

5. Vlad’s micro management style

The ensuing discussions have been about authenticity, ethics, transparency, trust, pragmatism, etc. and how Paradoxical Interventions may not measure up.

The more I think about it though, the more I am convinced that OD is all about Paradoxical Interventions (i.e. if I use the term in its literal sense, rather than as a field of study, about which I know nothing!).

If you examine each of the examples Allon gave, the intervention starts with where the person or team is. Basically, the ‘consultant’ has said, “What’s on your mind? And let’s go from there.”

My thoughts went to parenting my 11-year old. How often have I suggested ‘changes’ to her, only to discover that I did not have all the facts? How often have I had to withdraw my great suggestions, in favour of her more relevant ones? (Too many times!)

In a way, Paradoxical Interventions are very much about paying attention to the presenting facts and conditions, and then taking the client’s hand, and saying, “If this is where you want to go, let’s go together and see what it might look like.” If they talk themselves out of it in the process, then hey!, that’s better than me trying to talk them out of it.

It seems to be about ‘seeking first to understand’ (which takes a lot of time and patience, if you truly intend to understand), then demonstrating to the person that you have understood (their problem, their fears, their opportunity, their dream), before ever moving toward making changes.

The paradox seems to be about going ‘with’ the client to the goal, rather than ‘pushing’ them.

I think that OD is very paradoxical. It is very much ‘contrary to received opinion.’ (Merriam-Webster)

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