One of my publishers, ASTD Press, tells me that my book Coaching Basics is available. Funny, I have not seen a copy of it yet, but I am sure it is in the mail!
In Chapter 3, I briefly share several concepts that I think are important for coaches to understand (the book is for internal coaches primarily, but also external). One such topic is a belief set called social construction of reality.
Whether you become a social constructivist or not is not important, but I think all managers ought to understand and test the notions of social construction. In my mind, it is one of the MOST powerful management concepts you can use to facilitate change.
Here is the brief bit from Coaching Basics on social construction:
Social Construction of Reality
"When people talk to one another, the world gets constructed." (Burr, An Introduction to Social Construction,1995)
Social constructionists believe that reality is socially constructed. What does this mean? When people talk about something, they define it and make it real. It is during daily interactions that people construct their versions of knowledge and what they believe is real. Two different languages or conversations can create two realities. Your conversations, your talk, make things real to you. The word conversation is used broadly here to include verbal exchanges, written communications, nonverbal communications, and various other media forms. One million people reading a story in the newspaper can create new conversation that shifts reality for themselves. When a crime is committed in a neighborhood, you find several conversations and several realities–those of the police, the criminal, the neighbors, and the witnesses.
As a theory and practice, social constructionism can be helpful to coaches. When your clients are open to the fact that reality is created in conversation, they will more easily notice and modify assumptions that are not helpful. According to Burr in An Introduction to Social Constructionism,
"Social constructionism insists that we take a critical stance toward our taken-for-granted ways of understanding the world (including ourselves). It invites us to be critical of the idea that our observations of the world unproblematically yield its nature to us, to challenge the view that conventional knowledge is based on objective, unbiased observation of the world."
Don´t confuse what you see as reality with objective truth. In many situations, particularly those dealing with people, there is no one correct way to view the situation. Perceptions about reality are important to coaches and determine clients´ behaviors and results. For years, the prevailing conversation was that the world was flat. During this time, of course, the world was round, but people´s actions and behaviors reflected a reality that the world was flat. It is important to know what your clients believe is real. Is the situation hopeless? Are people conspiring to make them fail? Was the decision dead wrong? These are all views of what´s going on in the workplace, and they are socially constructed.